Tuesday, December 30, 2008

You know you're old when...

  • All the ads for the tv shows you watch are for treatments for depression, diabetes or erectile and urinary dysfunction.
  • You don't see a single name you know on the list of celebrity birthday celebrants in the morning newspaper.
  • You're reading the morning newspaper in the first place.
  • You learn that your given name was the most popular in the nation for babies born between 1949 and 1954.
  • The year-end reports of what's in and what's out surprise you - not because of what's newly in, but because you never were actually aware of anything that is already out.
  • The only name you recognize on the list of New Year's Rockin' Eve performers is the almost-80-year-old founder who's had a stroke. Okay, that's not quite true, I recognize Lionel Richie's name, too.
  • You're just happy to still be on the planet to see the ball drop once again. Even if you're watching it from another time zone so you can go ahead and go to bed an hour early and count it done.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bring on the frolleagues

I've never been one to worry about work-life balance per se. It's not because I'm a workaholic or on any sort of competitive career fast track - quite the opposite. Nor because I don't have a life (admittedly an arguable point....)

It's that I don't really see work and life as separate, distinct activities. What I do for "work" funds the "life," of course, but to me, one is a subset of the other. Work is one of the choices I've made for how to spend the 30 million or so minutes that have thus far comprised my life, and how I'll spend the untold millions - or thousands or hundreds, whatever fortune and my accident-proneness allow - that are left to me.

I realize this not a common view. And now, I find that it extends to my management, or lack thereof, of my Facebook page.

I wandered into Facebook a few months ago, primarily to avoid being too clueless about what's going on in the 21st century. I found a few people I knew there and invited them to be my "friends." Others similarly invited me.

I fussed a bit about the semantics. In the real world I do compartmentalize people I know into different categories of acquaintenceship, usually reserving "friend" for the most treasured relationships, which include some coworkers past and present. Not all those I know and like are friends by my definition, but I enjoy knowing them, am interested in what they think and do, and am delighted we share Facebook friendships. I'd prefer "people I like" as a more all-encompassing label, but I don't get to decide what Facebook does and I realize nobody else cares about my definition of friendship. So I've put that aside.

What I've found others do care about, however, is mixing work-life people. Somebody interviewed on NPR the other day used the word "frolleagues" to define the blurring of lines between people we know from our jobs and those we know from the rest of our life all coming together on our lists of Facebook friends.

The interviewee then issued a warning to those who allow fraternization of frolleagues on social networking sites. Echoing a sentiment I've heard from several others, he cautioned about employers, customers, lending agents or others drawing conclusions about you, based on postings by your Facebook friends, and suggested maintaining completely separate colleague and family/friend groups for your own protection.

I thought about that for awhile. He and all the other experts are probably right. My Facebook friends are diverse by every definition of that word: personal and professional friends, my kids and their friends, my friends' kids and family members, neighbors past and present. Divergent ages, races, religious and cultural perspectives, socio-economic levels, family make-up and political points of view are represented among the 30-some people on that list.

I'm pretty sure - in fact, really sure - they wouldn't all agree with each other on many topics. But I have decided I like it that way.

I don't define friendship, colleagueship, or I-like-youship, by whether or not you agree with me or others in my circle. Heck, I don't even define marriedship that way: my spouse of 35 years and the children we brought into the world (long before Web 2.0) don't agree with me or each other on most issues, most of the time.

So after much contemplation, and perhaps at my peril, I have decided to ignore the advice to segment my Facebook presence. For one thing, that horse is out of the barn and galloping across the countryside. For another, she who considers work a subset of life, likewise considers each of these individuals as one of many people to learn from and appreciate. There's not a definitive line a coworker or acquaintence crosses to become a life friend, and I don't want to waste time trying to draw one.

Most important, one of the very reasons I like all these people is that they expose me to perspectives beyond my own. It's sort of like Barack Obama choosing Robert Gates, Larry Summers, Hillary Clinton, Hilda Solis, Rahm Emmanuel and Rick Warren to play roles on his team. Okay, maybe a little different scale... but the point is, Obama is not judging Robert Gates by his political party, Hillary Clinton by her vote on the war, or Rick Warren by his views on homosexuality.

None of these people is that one-dimensional and none of them is proxy for Obama. They may inform him, but they don't define him, any more than my Facebook friends define me.

So if you find me on the social networking sites, know this about me and anyone on my list of "friends." Their opinions are their own; I welcome them, may or may not share them, but fervently believe in their right to express them. I don't go for the whole guilt-by-association thing and if you try to piece together what I'm about from the aggregate of my Facebook or real-world family's or friends' words and actions, you'll be really confused.

Until you understand that for me, the American dream is not about buying a house and a flat-screen TV. It's about living in a place where you can be true to yourself, do your own research, reach your own conclusions, and bring different people and perspectives together to arrive at common good. I'd much rather stand for, and behind, that concept than try to segment people into tidy like-minded groups. On Facebook, or anywhere else.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It's all up from here

It's the shortest day of the year, and in our town, also the coldest (so far). There will be nine hours, 25 minutes of daylight today; 14 hours, 35 minutes of darkness. It's not the sort of day that inspires living in the moment, at least not for me.

But the sun is shining, the temperature has worked its way up to double digits (10), our furnace works and Christmas -- with three paid days off work, and a weekend to follow! -- is on the horizon. The kids are okay, none of us is in the hospital or in a cast. After the holiday break, we all have paid work to return to, at least for now.

And now the balance between light and dark begins to shift toward light once again.

A good day to be in the moment, after all. The perfect day to post this message, with thanks to my friend Patty for passing it along:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Blessings of the season

Years ago, I was a shopping center marketing manager responsible for, among other things, Christmas promotional activities. This entailed hiring Santa Claus - not an easy task, if you consider who might be available and willing to work 40-plus hours a week for just five or six weeks a year in a really hot suit, being jolly as a constant stream of children crawl on and off your lap - as well as musicians, costumed characters, puppeteers and others intended to draw shoppers in droves.

I remember returning to my desk after lunch one autumn day in the thick of the Christmas planning season, with phone messages to return from the Dickens Carolers, Juha the accordionist and Candy (of Candy and MoMo) the Clown.

I went to college for this.

Four years of that, followed by eight years in a different role advertising all of those activities, drained my Christmas spirit dry. My kids were still young at the time, and while I did my best to make the season special for them, their sense of holiday spirit probably suffered as well. When it came to Christmas traditions, their mom pretty much gave all she had at the office.

To this day, I can't hear Jingle Bell Rock or Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, which as non-religious holiday tunes were acceptable in a public space, without breaking out in hives. We haven't had a Christmas tree since the kids moved out; a landfill worth of ornaments and decorations are in boxes in the basement, most likely growing mold.

But now, with a couple of decades of distance from my shopping center days, I can at least enjoy lighting a candle and singing Silent Night at Christmas Eve church services. I still make a point of tuning in when It's A Wonderful Life comes on the TV.

And the older I get, the more I appreciate one of the most cherished seasonal traditions: being in touch with people whose paths have crossed mine over the years.

I love receiving their Christmas cards, photos and letters - especially the letters, accomplishments of child prodigies, exotic travelogues, medical summaries and all. Whatever they write, they're sharing what they've deemed important over the past year - at least what they're willing to divulge - and that gives me a glimpse into where they are and how they're doing. That's at least as interesting as the typical Facebook status update.

Sometimes Christmas brings me face-to-face with people I seldom see, like the lunch I enjoyed yesterday with former colleagues from those shopping center days. Sometimes, the Christmas connection reminds us to schedule time together after the season, like the promise of burgers and a beer in January with a couple of other holiday correspondents.

And sometimes, the connection is little more than a signature on a card -- but even that's enough to inspire fond recollections. The fact that they still have my address and the knowledge that we still share space on the planet grows more comforting with each passing year, as I know, sadly, this won't always be so.

For me, these are the blessings of the season.

And, hey, the cookies aren't bad, either.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

2008 Holiday Form Letter

To all who hoped that the demise of snail-mail would be the end of my photocopied Christmas letter, my apologies. The blogosphere makes it even easier to serve up the mundane details of the year. In fact, with Twitter and Facebook status updates sharing such breaking news as what we had for breakfast or what color pajamas we’re wearing, the digital era seems poised to deliver even more, not less, of the minutae that typically fills Christmas letters. 24/7, as they say.

It’s called progress.

So to faraway friends and family who received this year’s Christmas card, and its message that the annual paper holiday form letter has migrated to cyberspace, welcome. Thanks for taking the bait.

I’ll begin with Christmas 2007, and the absence of either cards or Holiday Form Letters from our house last year. Procrastinating as usual, I hadn’t yet begun the annual outreach when on Dec. 14 I slipped on the ice while taking Mr. James, the dog, for a walk. The result was two broken bones in my right wrist and several weeks of very slow typing and utterly illegible handwriting. Tom, who has written exactly one letter in all his nearly 58 years on the planet, declined to pick up the task, so that was that.

After three months of occupational therapy and adjustment to a new normal in right hand flexion and function, I can type again. And if you received this year’s Christmas card, take that as proof I can at least now write legibly enough for the Post Office to figure it out.

Otherwise, the highlights of our year (or at least mine) are mostly in these blog posts: our kitchen spruce-up that morphed into a two-month bank-balance-draining renovation project, my adventures riding the bus to work and sticking my toe in the waters of Web 2.0, my failed attempt to read War and Peace, a couple of updates about the kids.

You’ll see, if you choose to rummage through any of the posts, that as I approach the last few years of f-word birthdays, I’m trying to be better about appreciating the here and now, and finding lots to like, or at least blog about, in the moment.

If you lack the will to read on, I can’t say I blame you, so thanks for visiting, come back any time you dare or can't sleep at night. If you’d like a little chuckle, at least check out the link to the blog about unnecessary quotation marks - it's somebody else's, and it's "a hoot."

And know that in this time of hope, uncertainty and abounding bailouts, in this little corner of the world are a couple of geezers who wish you enough health to stay out of the hospital (or enough insurance to pay for it if need be)… enough fortune to feed your families and enough time with your loved ones to know that’s what matters the most.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hitting the wall

I was hurrying from the copy machine down the hall to my office when a co-worker rounded a corner just behind me. I turned to greet her, without breaking stride or paying the slightest bit of attention (ya think?) to where I was going, and ran smack-dab into a corner of wall that protrudes into the hallway.

So hard that I literally bounced off the wall and landed on the floor.
R-e-a-l-l-y graceful and classy.

Coworkers immediately gathered, and I got back up as quickly as possible to assure them no ambulance was required. The damage seemed limited to a bruise on the hip on which I'd landed, a bump on my forehead and split upper and lower lips. A few tissues stopped the bleeding, a cup of ice chips moderated the swelling, and a day later the only visible trace of my mishap is a semi-fat lip.

This is just the latest misadventure I've experienced of late, and as I take inventory of them all, a theme emerges. I misstepped on the ice almost a year ago to the day and broke my wrist... slammed my foot into the leg of a desk a couple of months ago and broke my toe... and now have become one, momentarily, with a wall.

Clearly, I have a proclivity for really stupid accidents.

So, is there anything to be learned? Why, yes. In addition to discovering I can bounce off the walls with the best of them, there are several lessons to apply going forward:

1) Slow down.
2) Look both ways. Or just look, period.
3) This attending to the moment thing is not only good for appreciating what's around me, it might well save my life one of these days. Or at least what's left of my dignity.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Thought for the moment

No five-year plan for me – I’m on the five-minute plan. You can’t be joyfully participating in the day if you’re thinking too much down the road.
– Julia Roberts

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Scourge of the earth

Back in the day, stately elm trees lined the streets of my neighborhood. But by the 1970s, Dutch elm disease had claimed them all.

I'll give the city credit for planting new trees in their place... but whoever decided that sweetgums were a suitable replacement should be forced to lie in perpetuity in a bed of the fruit of the sweetgum tree: these horrid little spiny balls.

They clog gutters and storm sewers. They twist the ankles of unsuspecting pedestrians. Every gust of wind in the late fall and winter shakes more of them from the trees' otherwise bare branches. No amount of raking can keep up with them - they're like the scene in Fantasia where the dancing brooms bring more and more buckets of water to frantic sorcerer's apprentice Mickey Mouse. There is no end to them. They make the cold, gray days of winter all the more difficult to endure.

They do force me to pay attention to the moment when I take Mr. James for a walk, or make my way to and from the bus stop. If I don't watch my step, I'm likely to find myself sprawled on the ground amid them.

I guess they are Nature's way of reminding us that, smart and determined as we humans are, we're not really in charge.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Personal pride

This morning I boarded the bus to work to find it decked out for Christmas. Garland was draped over the windows, a shelf at the back of the bus was stacked with brightly gift-wrapped packages, and Carmelita, the normally feisty bus driver, was resplendent in a twinkling-light necklace and clear sense of accomplishment.

As we made our way downtown Carmelita told us she had purchased the boxes, wrapping paper and bows from the retail store where she works a second job to make ends meet. She said that her supervisor, seeing her work, had decided to rotate her bus during the season to different routes and drivers so others could enjoy her efforts as well. It was obvious she had mixed feelings about that - she had done this for her passengers, in whom she clearly takes an interest, and her bus, her personal work space. After all, bus #5804 is to Carmelita what my office is to me, and I can't say I'd appreciate taking time to pimp up my office and then give it up to other people work in. But she accepted the notion of spreading the cheer around.

Her efforts - and her obvious sense of pride - brought smiles to the faces of all who boarded, reminding me that in a time when we trample each other to get a deal on flat screen tvs, all it really takes to change someone's day for the better is a little bit of thoughtfulness.