Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday Feature: When and Why

Not too long ago, I finished listening to Daniel Pink's book When -- a book recommended by a friend that turned out to be one of my favorites. As I prepare to talk to my students about procrastination and time management, two topics that continue to be highly relevant to me, I'm revisiting the book. I'm particularly excited to share parts of the "Time Hacker's Handbook," -- a PDF that was included with the audiobook -- with my freshmen.

Then this morning, I found an article in Quartz about a few of the hows and whys surrounding Pink's writing of this particular book. I completely identified with the idea of writing about a topic that was not only relevant in my own life but something of a weakness as well. This, after all, was the impetus behind Know Thyself as I moved from one office to another and adopted a quest for sustainable organization in the process. Now, like Pink, I find that I'm in a better place when it comes to the very topic I write about.

I've never been one to seek out the origin stories of the fiction I read but I find a strange sense of satisfaction when the writer of a nonfiction book I've enjoyed turns out to be struggling with the same things I am. It forges a kind of connection between us, as though we're travelers on the same road which is, despite our new understanding of things, still rocky in places.

I like Pink's writing voice -- at once approachable and informed -- and suspect I'll seek out other books of his to listen to as well. Meanwhile, I'm seeking to apply what I've learned from When and to share Pink's concepts with my students.

What subject would you like to learn more about?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

It's the Little Things

It all started with a table.

When my sister moved, I acquired a small table that had been in my parents' house. To get it out of the way until I could find it a home, I put it in my office. The plan was for my daughter to take it to school with her but, as it turned out, I got attached. The extra work space was just what I needed. And, as it turned out, it changed the ambience of the room, adding a cozy feel.

When it came time for my daughter to go back to school, the table stayed home.

Then, a month or so ago, I bought a new chair for my office. The old one was comfortable while I was sitting in it, but left me achy after the fact, which meant that I often ended up working in other places in the house. I made the requisite trip to a local office store, where my Goldilocks routine (too tall, too big, too expensive) yielded a few contenders but no chair that was just right.

The following week, I visited a furniture store. I knew they wouldn't have as big a selection but figured it was worth a shot.

And there it was. The chair that had the potential to be just right.

I tried to talk myself out of it. It was white (not the best choice for an office chair) and more expensive than any of the ones I'd previously considered. I walked away -- I walked around the whole store, as a matter of fact -- but ended up back in front of it.

And arranged to take it home.

When I got home that afternoon, still wondering if white (the only color it came in) was my best choice, I saw something that I'd forgotten all about.

A small, rectangular white pillow, also taken from my parents' house, sat in the mudroom, still awaiting a home in my house. Suddenly, I knew exactly where it belonged.

My office is still the same small space that it always was, but, thanks to the new additions, it feels a little different. The small table and new chair (which still makes me smile every time I look in the office) have shifted the mood of the room in a subtle way.

My little room is growing up.

P.S. I made it to the bottom of the drawer.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Journey to the Bottom of the Drawer

By default, my books and swag have been taking up space in our dining room. It's not a perfect situation but, as is often the case, the stuff has been there for so long that I no longer really think about it.

Until last month when I moved it all to take it to a book signing. Once the car was packed, the clear space in the dining room looked lovely. That alone was enough to motivate me to begin sorting and clearing in an effort to find new homes for the supplies.

Last week, I cleared out some small drawers in my office, enabling me to move the swag out of the dining room and into the office. This began a domino effect, leading to my latest project: clearing out a large drawer in the dining room in an effort to get rid of the small drawer unit entirely.

The larger drawer, which is a catchall drawer, was full of all sorts of miscellany. Most of it was out-of-date paperwork that had somehow collected there, along with a bunch of loyalty cards, most of which had been transferred to the KeyRing app on my phone.

Easy peasy. Lots of things to toss, file and shred, leading to more clear space.

Along the way, I found a few treasures as well.
  • An email from my mom, finalizing the guest list for the 50th anniversary dinner my sister and held for my parents, along with an envelope from one card or another, with my name in her handwriting as it looked before she got sick.
  •  A birthday note from my husband the year he got me a Kindle...and it didn't arrive in time. He wrote me a note with the details, mounted it on cardboard and wrapped it. 
  • A cutout of my daughter's hand from when she was in preschool or elementary school (that I wish I'd put a date on) -- a relic from a little girl who is now an independent young woman. 
As I journey to the bottom of this drawer, which is now about 75% empty, I don't know what else I'll find. I have a feeling that what remains to be cleared is the part that will be the most rewarding but also the most challenging -- the part that's more nostalgia and inspiration than filing and shredding. There's the little yellow favor box from a friend's son's wedding alongside my checkbook and cash stashed away for a credit card payment, as well as who knows how many papers and receipts. The drawer itself tells a story -- of money spent, stores visited, mementos tucked away -- gathered together in unlikely combinations, a cross-section of life.

Soon, the drawer will be empty and ready to hold something mundane, like towels and pot holders. The newly cleared space will yield a sense of relief, but will also give way to a need to find homes for the treasures I'm bound to buried in and among the banalities of daily life. Practicality may win out, but, those special items -- along with the memories they've sparked -- will earn a victory of their own, surviving the purge, only to be tucked away again to become story starters elsewhere in the house when, inevitably, I stumble upon them once more.

Such is the beauty of life's souvenirs.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Friday Feature: The Inspector General's Report

It was another day of yelling at my car radio on the way to work, something that's happening with increasing frequency.

I was listening to the Friday News Roundup on 1A on NPR when the subject of the Inspector General's report on the separation of immigrant children from their parents came up. When host Joshua Johnson asked his guests about the report and what, if any action they were aware of, their responses amounted to a verbal shrug.

It confirms what we kind of knew, they said. A lot of these things we pretty much assumed.

Then why are we doing this??

There are some who are trying to keep this in the forefront.

Because it's still happening. And every day, more children are irreparably harmed.

It points out that Health and Human Services needs people who are trained in how to do this.

Do WHAT? Separate children from their parents? Why would we train people to do this?

In normal political times, there would be some sort of bipartisan solution, they said.

In these times, however, it's a political football (my words, not theirs) -- a talking point. Something for politicians to hash out from the comfort of their climate-controlled offices -- if they choose to discuss it at all -- places where food and health care and basic human rights are a given and there's not a single aluminum blanket in sight.

In fairness to those on the program, they were the messengers -- journalists responding to a situation, not representatives charged with doing something about it.

Seven months prior to this report (on February 7), Dr. Julie Linton spoke to House of Representatives about the well-documented, research-based, long-term dangers inherent in family separation:
"Studies overwhelmingly demonstrate the irreparable harm caused by breaking up families. Prolonged exposure to highly stressful situations — known as toxic stress — can disrupt a child's brain architecture and affect his or her short- and long-term health. A parent or a known caregiver's role is to mitigate these dangers. When robbed of that buffer, children are susceptible to a variety of adverse health impacts including learning deficits and chronic conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and even heart disease."
The bottom line is that we are knowingly causing damage and, as the journalists on today's program asserted, none of this is a surprise. It does, of course, beg a rather obvious question: knowing what we know, why do we continuing doing what we're doing?

In my classes this week, I've been teaching my students about the ethics that researchers must follow. Like doctors, their first rule is simple, and governs all the rest: First, do no harm.

Any compassionate government should be expected to do the same.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

A Small Taste of Characters to Come

I did it!

Less than half an hour ago, I sent the third and final Marita/Angel/Charli book off to my beta readers. Once I get feedback from them and the last bit of feedback from my critique book, this book will finally launch! I am aiming for a November 1 launch -- stay tuned!

Meanwhile, here's a scene from the book. Happy reading!

Title and cover for the new book coming soon!

           Marita gave Lukas a quick kiss then slid into the booth across from him. A roast beef on rye with lettuce, tomato, extra mayo and a side of coleslaw waited for her, alongside a glass of iced tea. Her favorite sandwich, her favorite guy and a heaping helping of guilty conscience. 
            “Sorry I’m late,” she said, squeezing his hand on the way past. “The deposition ran long, and then my mother called.” 
            “How is Rosemarie?”
            “Same,” Marita said, her mouth full of sandwich. She held up one finger, as she chewed and swallowed, regretting the size of the bite she’d taken. “Offering intrusion in the guise of assistance.”
            “I’m assuming there’s a story behind that.”
            “She wants to take Charli to the beach with them.”
            “And this beach is the French Riviera?”        
Marita shook her head. “No. My mother’s hatred of cruise ships now extends to airplanes. Just a friend’s condo at the Delaware shore.”
            “And this is bad?”
            “Not bad. Just pushy. Summer is months away. It’s too soon to start planning trips to the beach.”
            “I don’t meant to be dense, but isn’t that kind of the idea of planning? You do it ahead of time?”  
Marita took another enormous bite of her sandwich, this time to avoid answering. Lukas refused to see her mother’s helpful ideas for what they were—candy-coated machinations designed to exert grandmotherly influence over Charli. 
            The worst part was that Marita couldn’t just say no. After all the drama of the past few months—Spencer’s birth, Charli’s break-up with Todd—Charli could really use a vacation. One that Marita wasn’t sure she could afford. 
            Actually, the worst part was that her mother was right. Marita needed to make summer arrangements for Charli as much as Charli needed to get away from Todd.
            Marita washed down her food with a large sip of tea. “Sorry.”
            “You seem preoccupied.”
            She nodded. “I am.”
            “Is Charli still struggling with Todd dating someone else?”
            “It’s more than just dating someone else, Lukas. He has all the subtlety of—” 
            “A teenage boy?” 
            Marita bit back a retort. It wasn’t Lukas’s fault that he didn’t get it. He wasn’t a parent. Not only that, but she’d chosen to keep the gory details from him. He was, after all, Todd’s youth pastor and trashing Todd to him didn’t seem fair. Besides, Mary Kate and her husband were doing their best to reign Todd in, and Marita knew—probably better than most people—that overcoming teenage hormones with parental intervention was a battle more often lost than won.
            Lukas took her hand. “Did I offend you?”
            “It’s just hard to watch Charli go through it. She and Anna are still best friends, so it’s not like Charli can simply walk away from the drama. Every time she goes to Anna’s house—or youth group, or even to school, for that matter—she stands a good chance of running into Todd. I’m sure she’ll be fine in time, but he was her first boyfriend. She doesn’t know what to do with all the feelings.” Marita took another sip of tea. “How about if we talk about something else?”          
             “Sounds like a plan. How are you enjoying Bible study?”
            From teenage hormones to church.“Good. But a little weird. Angel hasn’t been coming.”
            “That is weird. How many meetings has she missed?”          
Marita shrugged. Great. Rescue Todd, but throw Angel under the bus.“Just a couple. But it feels strange without her there.” 
            Lukas squinted at her. “Are you all right?

Monday, September 2, 2019

Happy Labor Day!

Happy Labor Day! My day included 2 1/2 hours ironing out a tech issue, which means I was happy -- and grateful -- to have the day off.

But...I'm also lucky to work at things I love. I hope your day today was great, whether it was a holiday or not, and that you're lucky enough to work at a job you don't mind going back to tomorrow.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Friday Feature: Yarnbombing

Last spring, one of the television shows I enjoyed watching was The Village, which revolved around the lives of the residents in a Brooklyn apartment building. The Village was loaded with my favorite ingredient in a television show or movie.

Characters I cared about. 

Early in the first episode, teenaged Katie uses yarn to create a heart on a fence around a construction site. Until today, I didn't know there was a name -- several, in fact -- for the street art that Katie was creating.

Yarnbombing. Or graffiti knitting. Or urban crocheting. Or one of several other names. 

Unbeknownst to me, yarnbombing, the subject of a 2015 TED Talk, has been around for a while, gracing everything from trees and parking meters to buses and even a tank. It's not just a U.S. phenomenon either; London's Knit the City is a yarnbombing collective founded by Lauren O'Farell. 

While many appreciate the color and beauty of this textile-based street art, others have concerns. What happens to the knitting/crocheting over time, for example? Is the addition of yarn to tree branches good for the trees? Is this art, a subversive movement or both?

As with many other things, it depends on whom you ask, and the intention behind the person creating the art. Still, it's a fascinating concept -- parking meters with custom-made sweaters and cracks in the pavement with colorful yarn filler certain add color and spark conversation.

Want to know more (and see some photos?) Check out this article from Widewalls.