Tag Archives: Perspective

September Skies

I think, somewhere along the way through adulthood, I’d stopped noticing the sky. Oh, I’d returned to an awareness of nature, realizing on an instinctive level that it would calm the storm of my life. Though other than to look for threatening weather or waning daylight, I really didn’t look up.

 

But those planes made us all look up and notice. Even far from the actual places of destruction. Made us notice the perfect blue, the picturesque white clouds and the ominous absence of planes on that day. Made us scan those September blue skies in the days and weeks after, looking and wondering.

 

I’ve continued to notice the beauty of the sky. Even as we contemplate the potential of other dastardly deeds – human and climate based. My eyes are often on the clouds.

I am aware of the light. How it is different in each season. And different in other parts of the world. And how it changes in September when the angle of the sun announces the coming of a new season.

 

I think about how September is full of ghosts for me. Family birthdays that now mark the years since we had the celebrant here with us. Anniversaries that no longer accumulate to anything. (Though a couple that still do.) And all those ghosts who didn’t know the turn their day would take on that lovely morning.

 

I would think of what we have collectively learned – about the nature of disaster. About human nature. But, I’m not certain those lessons were universal or lasting for many.

 

United we stand? I hold out hope as I absorb the September sunlight.

 

© 2017 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Middle, Middle, Middle

A few weeks ago with no apparent preamble, I started to develop a thought thread – almost all of us, on some level, want the comfort of being thought of as normal but no one really wants to be perceived as being ordinary. The thought progressed. Somewhere along the edge of ordinary seems to be middle – middle income, middle age, middle America, middle child. I am a middle child grown to be in the midst of all this middle-ness.

 

Though if I am actually middle aged then I will live to be 100, which in this era of expanding life spans is still remarkable and therefore technically I passed middle age before I even thought what it might be. But I digress, and societally we seem to consider middle age to be late 40s through the 50s and sometimes into the 60s (which puts me in the middle of middle age…) so let’s get back to my main thought thread.

 

Normal, ordinary, middle – middle, middle middle (becomes a silly nonsense word if you say it enough) – are to be considered in the personal quest for meaning and our place in the world. Normal means we fit in, and despite the urge to be considered unique we do like to fit in. Ordinary has come to mean boring, and who wants to be boring?

 

I think back to childhood and that strong urge to blend in, because to call attention to oneself was to invite ridicule.  I had these socks that had cute little blue flowers on them, I believe my aunt gave them to me. I really liked them, but I wore them all of once. I was patterned in a sea of white knee socks and it was as if there was a beacon trained on my legs and therefore me. I decided to stick to something more neutral.

Capture

I Googled 'flowered socks'

I Googled ‘flowered socks’

Somewhere in high school I started the slow process of embracing my flower sock loving self.  Until here I am in the middle in so many possibly superficial ways considering the terrain of normal, ordinary and what it means to be in the middle.

 

© 2015 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

A Once Familiar Route, or Planning to be Disoriented

Every once in a while I become aware of the changes that have occurred in my routine for various reasons.  For years I headed east from my house – for work, family, errands.  Everything that I needed or wanted was pretty much east with the rare exception.  When my workplace actually moved closer to my home, my usual radius became about 6 miles, mostly east.

 

And then my life changed and now my well-worn route is south and north.  Work is south, with a slight alteration thanks to the onset of construction season.  (A quarter mile section of my regular road is being completely replaced, requiring me to go over a mile out of my way…)  New personal commitments and interests send me north several times a month.  Occasional jaunts take me to once familiar areas east of my house.

 

But I digress.  A person that I know is starting a new job this week, and my one of my sons started a new job a couple of weeks back.  Both are pleased with the opportunity for full time employment.  Both are interested in doing a good job and succeeding.

 

A new job is exciting. But it is also unfamiliar and disorienting.  A new routine, all new co-workers, tasks, procedures, culture, etc.  When we start a new job, we look forward to the additional money, the opportunities to use our skills.  We forget to think about the disorientation – all those new names and faces, the different commute – so much change.  That disorientation can really bite hard.

 

It wasn’t so long ago that I was in the midst of it myself.  At least being a writer helped me because of the necessary skills in observation and identification.  I never stopped being able to identify with new people at my previous job.  To help them to understand why their head was spinning.  Even still, I had to have more than one talk with myself when starting my current job to remember the plan.

 

How can a person plan to be disoriented?  A big part of the plan is just that – to know that it will happen, that it is a normal part of a new experience.  Normal means it happens to almost everyone.  The next part of the plan is to know that it is temporary.  Fairly quickly something will seem familiar, and then another something and another.  Friendly faces will offer assistance, ease the transition.

 

There is so much to learn and acclimate to in a new job, many go from being the person that everyone goes to for the answer to the person who feels lost.  But you are still you.  You still have the skills that got you the job, they just have to be applied in this unfamiliar place.

 

Long ago this was a familiar route to me.

Long ago this was a familiar route to me.

Things that we look forward to – a baby, a job, a house, a move, a marriage – are stressful because everything that was once familiar suddenly is shifted and disorienting.  If it was an anticipated change we have trouble figuring out why we are discombobulated, disoriented and we get frustrated.

 

Sometimes familiar routes cease to be current routes, but fairly quickly the new route becomes familiar.

 

© 2015 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

The Doing of It

I imagine that we all think of ourselves as doers – people who can do what needs to be done to get where we want or need to be.  It starts with the encouragement that most of us got when we did something simple like pile of couple of blocks on top of each other at an early age.  (That felt good, I want to do that again.)

 

My father was a doer – he made his lists, he planned, he checked tools and supplies, and one by one he checked off the points on the list until it was time to make a new list.  He had many skills that are useful for a homeowner and each of the houses that we owned showed some result of his carpentry, electrical, plumbing or other abilities before we put that house on the market and moved to the next one.

 

Dad built these bookshelves at Mom's request

Dad built these bookshelves at Mom’s request

Growing up watching him and sometimes helping, I thought I was a do-it-yourself-er.  Despite his flashes of irritation, he made it look wonderful to craft a new thing or fix something up.  It seemed very industrious, and clearly this was something to aspire to be.  But, I have come to the conclusion that while I might be an itinerate helper of a do-it-yourself-er, I am not – myself – a do-it-yourself kind of person.  At least in relation to work around the house.  I am very good at admiring a finely done piece of handiwork and I have picked up a bit of knowledge about the right way to do some of the tasks which is helpful when I hire out.

 

Mom, while more of an imaginer – an excellent idea person, was a doer in her own way.  No lists, well maybe a jotted thought here or there or a cut out article.  She too had handicraft skills because of her fascination with creation.  She learned to sew, knit, and crochet.  She tried her hand at gardening and drawing (stick figures).  I whiled away hours watching her turn a length of fabric into an article of clothing.  She was a better teacher than dad, but there could be flashes of impatience if a question was ill-timed.

 

We never talked about the difference between talking, dreaming, planning and doing.  The difference between short-term effort on a project and long term industry to create a life and support a family. The fact that some doing leads to a greater thing and some isn’t so effective. Does anyone really talk about these differences?

 

How well we each are at creating our own success is dependent upon how well we internalize the lessons we experienced in regards to doing.  There is much to the doing of it.

 

© 2015 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

The Last Vestiges

An article in the Sunday paper talked about how to properly put away your snow blower until next season.  It liberally refers to best practices during the last use of the season.  Stepping out to retrieve the paper from the end of the driveway this morning, I passed what I hope were the last vestiges of snow from the winter just completed.  (I feel safe saying winter is done since we have already entered meteorological spring and are mere days from astronomical spring.)

 

Winter weather, however, may not be done with us yet.

 

How does one know then that the current use of the snow blower will be the last of the season, in order to follow the directions provided in the article?  How do I know that those tiny patches of snowy ice are the last, at least for months to come?  (Looking out now with the thought of capturing them to illustrate this post, I see that I am too late and they are gone.)

 

odd post-snow remnants, picture taken by a friend

odd post-snow remnants, picture taken by a friend

We often talk in terms of end of this and last of that, but unless the deadline is self-imposed, calendar based, or otherwise easily limited and under our control how do we know it is a last of something?  This question comes to mind when I pass the bookshelf in my living room where the last book that my mom was reading sits.  The clean tissue that she had hastily or lazily pressed between its pages to mark her progress has been replaced by a book mark from one of her favorite independent bookstores.  It took me a couple of years to even make that change, but it never occurred to me not to mark the spot.

 

That last book, Tobias Wolff’s Old School, isn’t something that I have any interest in reading, at least not currently.  It sits on the shelf as a dust catcher between books that I have read and deemed worthy of keeping.  It represents all of the things that mom was still planning on doing, learning, accomplishing and experiencing.  There were stacks of magazines that were folded open to articles that she was in the midst of reading, other stacks of notes she had taken to be used in a future project, all signs of her planned continuation of intellectual development.  Despite cancer’s effect on her physical self, she would not have proclaimed Old School as the last book she would read until circumstances made that decision.

 

Last, as in previous, makes sense and I do truly hope that the last snowfall we experienced days ago in my region will be the last for months to come.  But I won’t bet on it or plan in it.  There are too many variables out of human control.  That book makes me consider my use of the word last in many instances.  How do I know?

 

© 2015 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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.

 

public domain image

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

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!

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

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.

Travelling Tales

Periodically I have reason to spend time enjoying folk and fairy tales and I am reminded anew how wonderful they are.  I am working on the storytelling workbook in Toastmasters and I also just participated in a local Hispanic Heritage day, where I was the storyteller.  We adults who don’t have regular contact with small children can forget the delights, and lessons, of these tales.

DSC03889

Part of what is amazing about these tales, beyond their endurance through so many eons as well as social change, is the way that they travel.  We like to think that we modern folk are better than any of our ancestors at getting around because we have a variety of fast modes to get from here to there.  But the reality is that even back in the days of horse carts and walking as the main means to get around, people were quite mobile.

 

People who study folk tales can provide endless examples of the different versions of the same basic tale that show up all over the globe.  The tale that I told at the Hispanic Heritage day had a very similar flavor to the Brer Rabbit tales in the American southeast.  Which themselves have provenances from other far off shores.

 

A good story is far more that entertaining.  It makes us more receptive to new ideas, learning and growth.  Folk tales are packed with understanding of human nature, right and wrong, and ways to explain the world.  They should since the oldest are quite well travelled.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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