Niceties and Curiosities

“Beauty gives you peace, wherever you encounter it in the world.”

~Jens Jensen

 

A variety of events, occasions and articles have formulated into this post. I am in the midst of binge watching season 5 of Downton Abbey before it is no longer streaming on PBS.org, I read an article that 5/3 bank commissioned a study of our impatience as part of their new marketing campaign (we are a terribly impatient crowd), and I have stumbled back upon these unrelated quotations that I am using in this post and they helped my disparate thoughts to gel. Plus other bits of mental flotsam and jetsam.

 

Downton is set in a time that was more mannered than our own, not a time that was simpler (though we like to imagine that past times were simpler than our own, because we crave simplicity), but also a time when there were stricter class distinctions.  Courtesy ruled interactions, decorum was de rigueur, and while class might have locked you in place it also told you where you stood.

 

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”

~Mother Teresa

 

When the societal changes after WWI started to gather strength, somehow courtesy was weakened with the loosening of class structure.  We have lamented the increasing lack of common courtesy for a very long time, it seems. But still niceties can be more like curiosities these days.  Since solutions have to start somewhere, I work to stay conscious of my own level of courtesy.  There are times when strangers are almost amazed when I have held a door for them.  Not just pleased or thankful, but stunned from complacency.

 

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public domain image

My local grocery chain is running a promotion right now that I am not participating in, though I have gotten dishes and cookware from past promotions.  When I’m asked if I am participating, I check with the person behind me in line and if they are I say that I am and give them the tokens.  It is a little thing, but it makes us both feel good.  I have been the beneficiary of such gestures in those past promotions.

 

These are tiny little connections with my fellow humans that I only wish could be more frequent.  Sometimes I am too deep in a reverie and I miss opportunities, which is unfortunate. Perhaps a part of our general impatience is just the fact that we have too many interactions with others that are lacking in any connection. Sometimes the opposite happens, I walk into the store frustrated and out of sorts at the end of a long day and by that simple act of sharing those tokens and making eye contact I walk out feeling better about the world.

 

© 2015 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Late Winter Trance

It does no good to tell ourselves that this winter has been relatively kind to us in comparison to last winter’s endless freezes and snow.  It is the physical discomfort of the here and now that wears us down.  And, please may it be so, will be easily forgotten once green things start to grow again.  (Hence why women go on to have more babies…)

 

Of course, kinder is relative and based on regions, I do believe that Boston is having a rougher winter, at least in terms of snowfall.  I have friends there and they show plenty of pictures of the snow excess on Facebook.  The snow machine up in the clouds in that area seems to be stuck on over-produce.  I know that snow blankets can feed off themselves to keep temperatures down, but does snow attract more snow?  It certainly seems to this year in that area.

 

We have an ageing snow blanket in my region.  A dusting here and there since our Super Bowl blizzard.  Which means that the snow is wind scoured and compacting as it loses the moisture it originally had.  And it is getting dirtier and cluttered with the flotsam and jetsam of suburban life.  The cars are all salt-crusted, which masks their normal hues.  Yuck.

 

My eyes are so tired of the color scheme – white, off white, dirty white, beige, and filthy black.  It seems to be putting my creative mind into a narrow rut of thought which is as difficult to break as Boston’s rhythm of snow storms.

 

public domain image - what I wish I saw out my window

public domain image – what I wish I saw out my window

I think of things that I could do to help my creativity to spark, but then there is that moment that I can’t seem to get past.  The one when I realize that I will have to bundle up, will have to slog through snow piles, icy spots, or slush to get where I want to go.  Ugh.  My couch, a mug of tea and a book, or Netflix, or some internet surfing will do for entertainment.  It is my late winter trance.  At least I have finally caught up with all 4 previous seasons of Downton Abbey.  And I found a new show on Netflix, Rehab Addict, that gave me some ideas for some updates on my house, when the weather gets better.

 

© 2015 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Crafting Things and Quiet Time

I have been trying to find my way back to writer mode.  Kitten is now 13 weeks old and the current challenges are normal kittenly concerns – don’t chew that electrical cord, not a good idea to pounce on a sleeping dog, unrolling the entire toilet paper roll is a bad idea.  (He has particular trouble with that last one as the unrolling makes him so gleeful.)  Now the vigilance is similar to parental, but not quite so intense.  Still, I am struggling with getting my mind into a fertile writing groove.

 

I have had time to think about creativity.  I always find it interesting to steer a conversation onto a person’s impression of their own creativity, especially if I consider that person to be creative in some manner.  It is rare for the person to define themselves as creative.  “Oh, no I am (fill in the blank with any number of adjectives)…”  Creative seems to be something reserved for the application of lofty projects and considerable talent.

 

Crafty is often the chosen adjective, more likely if my conversation companion is female.  Crafty seems to fall within the realm of hobbyist, putterer, occasional participant.  Somehow people are more comfortable identifying themselves as crafty – or some word that directly identifies their chosen mode of creative expression such as knitter, woodworker – than claiming to be creative.

 

Both of my parents were creative, crafty – dad with woodworking and mom with sewing.  I spent hours quietly watching each work on projects as a child.  Dad also painted, made models, and drew.  Mom also wrote, played the piano, and learned dozens of crafts over her lifetime.  I grew up expecting creativity to be a part of life.  Not only to admire what others did, but to participate in something creative of my own.

 

It takes time for quiet thought, this ability to create.  Melville said that a writer needs to be in a ‘quiet, grass growing’ mood to write and I think that applies to almost any other creative endeavor.  Time must be carved out of an overfull schedule, understanding of when the mind is most fertile for ideas to grow.  It should be a block of uninterrupted time.  Which is hard to arrange with a small creature in the house.

Egonforblog

I am eager to get my writing muscles back into shape, but fear I will not be a regular poster for some time unfortunately.

 

So, what about you – do you consider yourself creative?

 

© 2015 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Technology: Making it a Tool and not a Distraction!

My sister-in-law originally posted this great piece on her own blog – Nicole Lynskey Technology: Making it a Tool and not a Distraction! – and I thought it worthy to share while I ponder my own first post of the year.  I agree with her that technology is a boon and a potential impediment to the rest of our life.

Technology can be a wonderful tool.  How much easier it is to find your way around a new city with GPS.  How cool is it that you can see the face of a loved one while you talk to them from a 1000 miles away.  But technology – Facebook, TV, smart phones, email, texting – can also be distracting or even addicting.

 

What is the technology that you find distracting?  I have friends that have killed off their Facebook accounts because they found that it eats up too much of their time.  And I have Facebook friends who post so often it makes me wonder how they ever get anything done.

 

Mine is not Facebook. I don’t do farm animals games. If you post more than once a day, I will most likely just read the first entry.  For me Facebook is an awesome tool; it is a place where I’m connected to my community. I hear about deaths and births and dog birthdays and news headlines I would otherwise miss. I’m Facebook friends with cousins I have only met twice and relatives in Norway.

 

That is the thing about technology, whether it is Facebook, the T.V., your smart phone, an iPod, Twitter, or email.  It has the potential to be a tool.  And it has the potential to be a distraction or even an addiction. In one study, they found that some knowledge workers were checking their email up to 30 times an hour. In another, some college students reported that they were on their smart phones up to 10 hours a day.

 

My technology addiction of choice has always been T.V. At 9PM, when my day ends, I love to turn on re-runs of shows like Star Trek. This is brain dead zone for me. I learn nothing about the world. I simply escape. And when I watch, it is as if I have been sucked directly into the T.V.  When Major Kira of Deep Space Nine cries, I cry. When Commander Sisko laughs, I laugh. Luckily, I have limited free time and so this addiction remains somewhat small. The average American (shockingly) watches something like 35 hours of TV a week, or 5 hours a day. But while my TV time is minimal, I do find it gets in the way.

 

Now, many have decried the evils of T.V. But it can also be a great tool. I have friends who watch T.V., and use it to learn and discover. They watch NOVA and documentaries.  They seem to have no problem turning it off and doing something else.

 

So why can technology be so addicting?  There are a couple of places I would point to:

 

The Distractibility Factor.

The first is that technology has a high degree of distractibility. Think about those knowledge workers checking their email every two minutes. Email can be fun. It can feel a little like a popularity contest: Oh! I wonder who has responded to me! It can be obsessive: Did he answer my question yet? Did he answer my question yet?

 

Or think about Facebook. How many times have I gone into Facebook to check information on an event and then suddenly I’m off reading posts. Then, 10 minutes later, I “come to” and think “what was I trying to do?”

 

Avoidance

The second thing I’ll point to is a certain darkness inside of us that can be hiding out.  In the last few weeks I’ve been instituting no-TV-Tuesdays.  The first thing I came up against was the question of who am I, what do I like to do to relax, if I am not watching my nightly show.  There is a bit of a dark spot over my soul, that, in watching TV, I can escape. In the absence of the TV, there is quiet. In the quiet of my heart, what is it that I don’t want to hear? (Like, for me, the devastating things that happen on this planet. Or the question of what it means to be closer to 50 than to 40. )

 

So, in turning away from our technology addictions, there is also an opportunity to look more deeply into our own psyche and ask if there is something we are avoiding.

 

What can we do to curb our addictions?

Here are a few suggestions:

 

  1. Get clear on the purpose of the technology for you. Is it a tool for learning? Is it for connection? In what ways is it a tool for you and in what ways a distraction? For example: when I use Facebook I am super clear that I am there to connect with people. That’s it. I don’t do anything else. And that helps me use it well.
  2. Take a look at that question: Is there something I’m avoiding or hiding out from?
  3. Create a little holiday from your addicting technology.  By just opening this little window of no-TV-Tuesday, I have come to see other possibilities. There are books I want to read. I could listen to Public Radio. (How could I have forgotten!?) When I do watch TV, which is still to often for my taste, it is often with more of a sense of choice. I could watch TV. Or I could take a bath or I could turn on the radio.
  1. Use a timer. I find this to be a really effective tool for me. I set a timer for how long I want to focus on a difficult task. During that time, I ban myself from email & Facebook. And I also set a timer for how long I plan to be in a distracted state. For example: maybe I give myself 15 minutes to check email, look at Facebook and generally browse the internet.

 

What about you? What are your addictions and what are your solutions? Let me know!

Getting in the Christmas Spirit

“There is the Christmas we believe we should have and there is the Christmas that we have.”

~Christopher Borrelli (Chicago Tribune)

 

I am close to 2 people who are self-avowed Scrooges.  I don’t believe it because I know both to be warm-hearted and giving people.  One just attended a Christmas chorale event with me in early December and was farther along in putting up festive decorations at her house than I was.  (I rectified that this weekend.)  So what makes each express such Bah Humbug?

 

How much of our Christmas is expectation, forced frivolity?

 

Yet another friend lamented the added pressure of her family’s Elf on the Shelf that has to do something every day.  Her husband just backs away saying he isn’t creative that way.  She would be open to the whimsy of the season, I think, if not for the outside pressure.  I think this is true for each of these people.

 

Sure I am subject to those ‘if only’ thoughts of amazing, movie worthy Christmas experiences (just about any experiences).  But then again, I have learned to find joy in many ways and many places.  I loved starting my Christmas season with that chorale concert.  And attending my work Christmas party this past Friday.  I am slowly taking out my decorations and reminiscing over many of them.

 

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public domain image

I’ve sat down to write my Christmas poem that goes into the cards that I send out, addressing a few each day.  I do lament that I no longer have the time to devote to the Christmas baking of years past.  I’ve occasionally tuned in to the local radio station that plays all Christmas music all month, but haven’t pulled out my own CD collection yet.

 

Christmas is about savoring and sharing joy.  I hope that whatever that means for you, you are able to get into the Christmas Spirit this season.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

My Gratitude List

The older that I get, the more I like the fact that we have set aside a national day for Thanksgiving, for gratitude.  I only wish that we paid a bit more attention to this opportunity instead of focusing so much on the sales that now overwhelm this holiday.  In honor of Thanksgiving later this week, here is my list of a few things for which I am thankful, in no particular order.  And certainly not complete.

 

  1. Kitten is feisty and eating and getting a bit more adventurous.

 

11-19-2014

 

  1. Much of my immediate family is gathering for the holiday, it will be good to see both my brother and sister’s families. I only wish my older son and daughter-in-law could make it.
  2. Plenty of interesting things to learn.
  3. I’ve had some good opportunities at work this year.
  4. All my friends and family.
  5. Good books to read.
  6. The chance to write regularly.
  7. Chocolate
  8. Chances to share stories and experiences.
  9. Whenever I feel like humming or bursting into song
  10. Coming home to a dinner that my son has created
  11. Christmas lights sparkling in the too early dark (yes, even the ones before Thanksgiving – I am more forgiving of the home décor than the demand to shop)
  12. Coming across a forgotten favorite – photo, song, book…
  13. Sitting around and chatting with friends
  14. Offering or being the recipient of random acts of kindness

 

I hope that each and every person who comes across this post has a long list of things for which you are thankful this season.

 

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public domain image

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Please Stand By

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public domain image

Hello Blog Readers,

We have a needy new resident at my house – a tiny kitten.  He didn’t even have his eyes open when he first arrived and his need for attention is all out of proportion with his size.  He hasn’t left me much time to develop any blog ideas.

I will return soon.

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I’m Voting for Participation

I will vote later today, I will walk over to my polling place after I come home from work – all the way across the street – and then walk home for dinner and the rest of my evening.  I used to vote when I dropped off my kids for school, or picked them up, once I was working full time.  Having polling places that are accessible is a wise move.  People are more likely to participate in something that fits in with their routine.

 

public domain image

public domain image

Way back when I turned 18, long before these kerfuffles about voter id laws, my birthday was in October and I went in to vote with my parents a few weeks later in November – I registered right there.  I was excited to participate, and hadn’t given much thought to the specific candidates or races until the moment when I pulled the curtain to close myself into the booth – other than governor.  (It wasn’t a presidential election year.)  It was one of those old machines with levers – including one that would allow me to vote straight ticket.  One swipe and I could be done, having performed my civic duty.  I was a bit dismayed that there were so many different races.  And incumbents and opponents.  I hadn’t prepared myself.

 

At that moment I realized that my right to vote, just like a lot of other things in life, was complex and required more from me than a bit of time and effort on Election Day.  If I voted strictly based on party affiliation I could be voting for a person who wasn’t qualified.  That didn’t sit quite comfortably with me, even then when I was still new to the adult world and believed that everyone acted with good intentions.

 

The newspaper has become a great ally in my quest to be a regular voter.  I believe strongly in the importance of participation.  Without the newspaper it would be much more difficult to be an informed participant.  Who is running against whom, why, what do they stand for or against?  So many names flow in front of us in TV ads, on flyers and bill boards and yard signs.  The candidates don’t always tell us the basics – what office are they seeking, what party do they represent, what reasoning do they offer?  Our Founding Fathers expected citizenry to be informed and act accordingly.  (We won’t consider their understanding of human nature today.)

 

Regardless of each voter’s level of information on the candidates and issues, participation is a basic element.  Without it, what can we expect?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Holiday Hoopla

Which is your favorite holiday?  Today is a holiday that has seen a tremendous shift in meaning since it originated, and the coming months will bring other huge holidays that tend to be high on the list of favorites.  Holidays are a great time to lift ourselves from our routine, celebrate family and friends, and connect with the past. And usually participate in the economy.

 

I haven’t put out a single decoration this year, though I have a sizable collection of Halloween dust catchers which have accumulated over the years of raising my boys.  There are the tall, slim figurines that I bought in a kit and painted myself.  And a hollowed out gourd, made into a ghost, that I bought on an afternoon spent in a quaint town with my mom and sister.  The scarecrow made from a softball by a fellow mom who was trying to impress the other homeroom moms with her creativity.  And plenty of other things, most of which have a memory or two attached.

 

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One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving.  Because it is quieter and except for food hard to exploit with merchandise.  Even though my dad and I would regularly lament that it was difficult to find Thanksgiving decorations.  Now I have his and mine – mostly Pilgrim and turkey themed.  I love that the focus is around family and friends gathering to share a meal and think about gratitude.  (We won’t think about the fact that shopping for Christmas is encroaching upon this more serene holiday.)

 

I know plenty of people whose favorite holiday is this feast of Trick or Treat.  I know others who refuse to partake in the fun for religious reasons.  (To them I’d like to point out that Halloween is a contraction for All Hollow’s Eve, which is the precursor for All Saint’s Day November 1st – and a day for religious observance.  And was timed to counter a pagan ritual observing harvest and the coming of winter.  The Monsignor at my old church used to hold a great Halloween party for the families.)

 

We need these holidays to brighten up our days as the natural light grows scarcer this time of year.  Colorful décor, strings of lights, cheerful greetings for those known and not known – may all of our next few months be enjoyable – full of food, baubles and hoopla.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Number Stories

(Originally posted on 9/25/14 to a shared blog – http://blogtowork.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/number-stories/)

photo credit: Huffington Post

photo credit: Huffington Post

Math and numbers have never resonated for me the way that words do.  I understand that they have a practical use – at least basic math – and appreciate knowing how to use them for things like balancing my checkbook.  And I’ve always been happy to know people who really get numbers so I can ask them for help when things get beyond basic.  It has only been in recent years that I have discovered an area of numbers that really is fascinating – statistics.

 

Statistics are stories told with numbers.  Why didn’t anyone ever tell me?  Not story problems like why did the train go faster from station a to station b or whatever nonsense.  No, number stories – data meets the story arc.  Very intriguing.

 

Why am I bringing this up here?  Because job search is loaded with statistics, some of them quite contrary, and all of it worthy of some attention by job seekers.  We all know about the unemployment rate, at least the national one that is regularly reported on the evening news.  But there are state and regional unemployment rates.  Rates based on ethnicity and age group, level of education and industry segment (healthcare, manufacturing, service, etc.).  Oh and make sure that you know how it is calculated because that is a whole other facet of the story for this number.

 

What about the workforce participation rate?  I don’t remember ever hearing about this one until the Great Recession.  This one is the percentage of adults who are working for pay.  This number is also at an all-time (read since this has been tracked, I believe starting somewhere in the 1970s) low and seems to be dropping.  The story is in understanding better why it is dropping.  And in comparing this data to the unemployment rate – if the unemployment rate is dropping, why is the workforce participation rate also dropping?

 

Then there is the job opening ratio – the number of posted open positions juxtaposed with the number of qualified applicants who are actively looking.  This seems to be coming down a bit, there aren’t quite so many qualified applicants for each open position, but still too many for the comfort of each job seeker.  This is the number that directly affects another number – the average number of weeks or months it can take someone to land their new position.  Last year I know that this average was hovering around eight months.

 

There are plenty of other statistics, but you get the idea.  These numbers aren’t just for the media and politicians to bandy about – there are lives behind each one.  Stories of individuals affected, but also of how the information is collected and applied.  The statistic isn’t the end of the story, but the beginning.

 

It comes down to your number story, which is quite simple.  Back to basic math; one person who needs one suitable position.  At least knowing some of these number stories can give you discussion points with Aunt Betty the next time she asks you again why you don’t have a job.

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