I can't say whether or not running inspires genius or if my mind is simply trying to distract me from the activity. It's no doubt the latter but I have had some interesting thoughts occur to me on a run, including this one during today's 3-mile sojourn. It felt magical at the time; admittedly less so now, but here we go:
Music re-inspires me to keep going every three or four minutes and today was no exception. My playlist is an eclectic mix of my sons' solos over the years (my favorites), classical chorus, and rock, albeit mostly songs that are at least twenty years old. It's also not the most heart-pumping music in the world but that's okay. I'm not setting any pace records; let's just say it works for me.
So when Peace Train started, I had this little movie play out in my head:
Scene: Lincoln Memorial.
Just two miles away: The Capitol Building.
Imagine that this is the setting for shortest train ride on the planet.
Driving the train, Pennsylvania's own Charlie Dent, along with Wisconsin Representative Ron Kind. Along with them, the car carries a few dozen representatives from both sides of the tracks, who see the train heading in the right direction and are making the trip.
As it moves along its very short route to the Capitol, everyone already riding the train reaches out a hand to the legislators lining the route, encouraging them to hop aboard.
Behind the senators and representatives, the rest of the country stands and cheers everytime one of them joins the train.
Why must we go on hating?
Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again.
I'd be there, cheering collaboration, cooperation and compromise, I swear I would be. Unfortunately, I doubt there would be many officials just waiting for a chance to hop on board.
Saturday, October 05, 2013
Friday, August 16, 2013
One of the annual rituals during our summer vacation is kite-flying on the beach. We arrive just as dusk is on its way out and nightfall is on its way in. For years, we guided the kites our boys held in anticipation. Sometimes we found the perfect mix of wind, string and nylon that resulted in soaring specks of color in the night sky. Other times, we couldn’t seem to catch the wind, or we pulled too tightly on the string and crashed the kite into the sand, or we somehow lost the string altogether and watched it drift away.
We still carry on that tradition, mostly for my niece who is younger than her cousins and enjoys our mini-kite festival every year. (Lately, my boys, their dad and their uncles toss around a football while my sister and I wrestle the kites into the air.) The thing is, even when we’re successful, and one or more of our kites have reached a high point, we turn to each other and ask: now what? Hold that thought.
Last week, we moved our oldest child into college. Because I can’t seem to relax about managing all the details surrounding situations like this, I spent a lot of time leading up to moving day checking off lists and times and logistics about the process. I spent almost no time checking on myself and the new place I would move into once our son left home.
So we packed and then unpacked. Plugged in and wired up everything, made a bed, hung up clothes and found a new place for the bits and pieces of his life that he carried with him. We met the young man - the stranger - who would share the dorm room and possibly share a lifelong friendship with him. We met his parents, too, and tried to answer, in a matter of twenty minutes, these questions: who they were, what they believed, how they raised their son and whether or not they were people of character and principles. (I told you I couldn’t relax about stuff like this.) Thankfully, my first impressions told me the following: friendly, approachable, bright people, who held the same values in terms of education and love of the arts. They raised a polite young man, who was clearly dedicated to his studies, and they were committed to supporting him to help him succeed.
As the moving in ended and the moving on began, my son and I hugged goodbye – and spent an extra couple of seconds hanging on while we did. Then, just eighteen and half years after he arrived, my oldest son walked away in one direction and I in another.
A few months ago, I received an email from a friend who read a column I wrote about my children growing up. In it, Joanne artfully expressed the challenge we all face in raising our children. She reminded me that raising children is kind of like flying a kite: hold on too tightly, and a kite doesn’t get very far. Give it too much slack too soon, before the wind has really caught hold so it can move freely without danger, and it comes crashing to the ground. But when you can find that perfect ratio of give and take while holding the string that connects you and the kite, it soars effortlessly into the sky.
I tried to calculate the “too much slack vs. too tight” ratio last week during the move into college. It was tough; it almost felt like I’d dropped the string. I’d given my son a generous amount of freedom. He was ready for it; it was the right time to set him on his own. He took off; maybe with a bit of shakiness at first, but he’s soaring now.
The kite is airborne. Which brings the inevitable question: now what? I don’t have that answer yet. Maybe we’ll just enjoy the flight. We’ll watch the kite flutter, even dive a bit from time to time, then help keep it moving ever higher, letting that string out even more; more than I would have believed is possible. But never let it go.
Thursday, December 06, 2012
If you’ve sold a house, or bought a house, you attach a particular meaning to that phrase. As a seller, usual contract terms require that on closing day, you deliver a "broom swept" house; no more, no less. As a buyer, you can expect to take possession of a home free from dust – bunnies; no more, no less.
Last week, I played the part of the seller, with broom in hand. So why is it that when I started at the top of the hardwood stairs in my parents’ home, and swept my way to the bottom, I felt like I was doing so much more than just prepping for sale?
Although I know an actual, definite number exists, it’s impossible to know how many times I climbed or descended those stairs over the years. But I do know this: some trips were more memorable than others. Like this one: When my sisters and I were young, my dad complained that we sounded like “a herd of elephants” as we ran up and down the stairs. We were “young ladies.” To help us learn what that meant, we had to walk up and down the stairs – quietly, almost noiselessly, mind you – for about an hour while he and my Mom sat in the kitchen listening to some very muffled footsteps.
The good news for us was that the stairs turned a corner at the top and sometimes two of us took mini-breaks to sit down for a bit while one of us carried on the “lesson” for Dad. I’m not sure we learned anything but this happened more than 40 years ago and I remember it very clearly. Up and down a staircase? For almost an hour? On those little legs? Isn’t that child abuse? Nah. Call off the social worker. Not one of us needed medical attention. It’s what people used to call raising children.
Here's another staircase story, although I remember this one with much less bemusement than the “young lady” lesson. One warm summer night, I was sitting on our front porch glider with a date, probably doing exactly what a young couple would do as they sat together on a warm summer night on a front porch glider. No doubt we were in the throes of as much passion as we could muster on a front porch, albeit a dark front porch. Then from inside the house, we heard a bit of mayhem, some bumps and thumps (like someone slamming into the wall at the bottom of the stairs, right inside the front door), muffled voices, and then silence.
Later that night, I learned that my Dad, while drunk, mostly stumbled down the stairs, hit the wall, and was just about ready to confront me on the front porch with as much passionate outrage as he could muster given his state. My mother stopped him cold, and the moment passed. I remember my sister telling me, “Mom saved you.”
Skip ahead about ten years. I descended those steps as a bride. A young lady in a satin gown with a long train, I posed for pictures with my parents in the living room. No, I didn’t marry the guy from the front porch, and no, I didn’t have to confront my Dad’s alcoholism that day. He gave me the gift of sobriety for my wedding weekend. (A few years later, he made the choice daily to live the rest of his life sober, this time as an unspoken gift to his grandchildren.)
Final staircase story. The last night my mother spent in her home included a very labored, exhausting trip up those stairs. One difficult step at a time, she made her way to her bedroom. She left her house the very next day via an emergency squad gurney, so she never stepped foot on the stairs again. (For decades, every time we talked about downsizing out of this too-big-for-her house, she dismissed us: “They’re going to carry me out of this house.” She was right.)
Despite the lesson we endured, I’m positive my sisters and I spent years stomping up or down the stairs as outraged teenagers, and my brother did his version of the same. The wall at the bottom of the stairs (and the people in house) somehow held up against a number of drunken bumps over the years. The staircase showcased a few brides, and new babies being carried up for naps, then older grandchildren (especially three little boys at once, sounding not unlike a herd of elephants) running up and down the stairs during visits and sleepovers. This time, the din went unchallenged by Pop-Pop. In the end, it posed a formidable challenge to my Mom, who never, ever stopped loving the house she and my Dad bought all those years ago, without even looking at the second floor.
So there I stood at the bottom of the steps, next to a small pile of dust ready to be scooped up. From my spot, I looked into the kitchen, then past the living room and the dining room to the doors of the sunroom. The silence felt overwhelming despite the fact that for me, the life of the house had been seeping away for months, leaving nothing more than a space, a shell, a structure to be “sold and settled” as the realtors say.
Except for that day, except for that moment while I gathered the dust at the bottom of the stairs. Right then, I gave myself permission to gaze; time to see just about every family moment we created in that house. Then I checked the lock, and pulled the door closed behind me. Walked past the glider – that same one! - and stepped off the front porch.
I drove away. I teared up a little bit. And realized this: that broom swept exceedingly clean. With my last look, I saw kinder, more joyful and more comforting scenes than I would have imagined. Slammed doors went silent. Shrill voices sounded soothing. The only tears we shed were happy ones. The piano was always in tune; the cacophony of music and voices, plus the television and noisy toys was inexplicably harmonious. Even as I saw that very last morning at home with my Mom – so tired, so tired of everything her illness represented – the lens revealed only the love, not the despair and desperation that crowded my thoughts, and surely hers, that day. Only the love.
In this empty home, the people are gone. The connections remain. And those can never be swept away.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Imagine it’s 1980. You’re fresh out of college, degree in hand, and you’re looking for that great first job that will launch you into the business world. Imagine you find a company that needs someone with exactly your skills – or near enough – and you secure an interview. Everything seems to be going beautifully. You’ve answered the “tell me about yourself” question with a charming, amusing and yes, slightly moving anecdote about your life. You’ve indicated that your greatest flaw is that you “care too much about doing a good job” and they seem to buy it, and you’re just about ready to deliver your carefully crafted, spontaneous speech about how you’ve always admired the mission of the place, yadda, yadda. (And if you don’t recognize the “yadda, yadda” reference, you may be too young for this post.)
Imagine the person interviewing you sums up your typical work day as follows:
“Okay! We’d be delighted to have you join our company. Let me tell you a little about what to expect.
You start every day with about 37 notes stacked up on your desk that need your attention right away. They are usually from people who stop by your office overnight. They’re pretty sure you’re not there and can’t really help them until the next day, but since it felt convenient for them, they thought they’d reach out to you regardless of your availability. Then, throughout the day, you can expect no fewer than perhaps 159 interruptions – give or take a few dozen - from scores of people, who poke their head into your office or cubicle and ask for your help. Sometimes the interruptions will be substantive and require a lot of your time to fully address. Sometimes they may be from someone who needs one specific piece of information you have. Like a phone number. Or a document. Or a spreadsheet. Or a calculation. Or a contract. Or an opinion. Right now.
Sometimes, but not often, these people will be connected and have similar requests, or build on the previous request. Sometimes, what starts as one request from one person becomes much more complicated when they leave, but then come back again, dragging along one person, then another, then another – all of whom have a bit of insight to share, even if it’s worthless insight - until you have about nineteen people stacked up, all waiting for your response about one topic.
But just as often, people who reach out to you will be entirely disconnected. That means you have to stop what you’re doing, and instead think about what they want and how you can accommodate them, and then go back to what you were trying to do before the last interruption. Except actually - you can’t, because they’ll be another person at your door in about 78 seconds.
One more thing: not everyone who needs you will find you by poking their head in your door. Some of them will come in through the window. Or the skylight. Or another entrance you may know almost nothing about. Some of them will stop by and discover that you’re busy; so they’ll ask you to contact them when you have a moment.
Oh, and don’t worry. You’ll do a lot more than simply answer the questions or requests you get from colleagues. You’ll participate in meetings, and be on the phone daily. You’ll have tasks that are entirely your own responsibility to complete, presentations to write, meetings to arrange, and goals we expect you will reach. You’ll sometimes be out of the office on business for a day or more.
But this is a constant: people will continue to need you throughout the workday (and beyond), even while you’re otherwise occupied or away. They’ll just stack up outside your door, waiting for you to return and help them out.
Sound good? When can you start?”
Question: How quickly would you run?
Imagine it’s 2012.
If you’re in an office environment, you have not only accepted that job offer; it feels normal to you. We live in that work environment every day. But instead of people lined up outside our offices, the emails they send are stacked up in our in boxes and interrupt us on a regular basis, around the clock. And if they’re not emailing, they’re leaving us voice mail. And if they’re not emailing or leaving us voice mail, they’re sending a text. And if they’re not emailing or leaving voice mail or sending a text, they’re skyping us. And everything is a priority; everything needs our attention.
Maybe it’s an age thing – like so much of my life. If the previous job description has been your only experience in the workforce, it could be of little consequence. But maybe for people like me, who did go on those job interviews in 1980, we have one foot in an office environment that’s almost like ‘Madmen,’ without the Old-Fashions, and another dangling in cyberspace, which is not an entirely comfortable position to maintain.
Several exhaustive studies have been conducted that prove the ineffectiveness of all this wired communication – particularly email - and its impact on our productivity. Obviously, there is a point of diminishing return on this time-saving and ostensibly efficient communication. Now, I’m not advocating we stand by the fax machine (remember those?) for critical correspondence or circulate important information on memos via interoffice envelopes but isn’t there a middle ground here? When I started in the workforce, we had a few “while you were out” slips on our desks when we returned from lunch, left there by administrative assistants who picked up our calls.
Now we’re never out, we don’t have admins or (often) lunch. We’ve come a long way, baby.