Seven Minutes

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I’m on day four of the Infomagical challenge.  The goal of Infomagical is to decrease the amount of space technology and information take up in our lives and in our brains.  I’m not going to go into great detail on Infomagical.  If you want to learn more, you can visit project.wnyc.org/infomagical.

I decided to participate in this challenge because I have been feeling an ever-increasing  frustration over the past few months, maybe years, about the fact that communication between actual human beings has so quickly dwindled.  We have gone from face to face conversations to email to text messages.  Sending a business-related text message would have been unheard of less than a decade ago when cell phone providers charged per text or many plans had a limit on the number of texts before exorbitant charges kicked in.  Recently, I have been receiving texts from employees, contractors, even my daughter’s music teacher.

I’m old enough to remember the rules of telephone etiquette.  My parents taught me how to answer a phone, how to politely make a phone call, and how to speak to a friend’s parents when requesting to talk to their child.  Those were scary things to learn.  I remember dialing the phone and fiercely hoping that my friend would be the one to answer so I could avoid those awkward moments of polite conversation with their parents.  Now many homes don’t even have a land line.  When we make a call, we know exactly who is going to answer.  If the phone rings, and we don’t feel like talking, we can send the call to voicemail with a quick push of the button and listen to it later.  We can even avoid a return call by responding with a text.

Even though making a phone call has become much easier than it once was, there has been a distinct trend away from even this minimal personal interaction.  Imagine a stereotypical teenager from a decade ago. Hours of free time were spent on the phone calling one friend after another.  Or even, heaven forbid, walking down the street and knocking on their friend’s door.  Fast forward to today.  Hours are spent messaging.  Typing, on social media or through texts, has replaced real-time communication.  Even the simplest of social exchanges are curated, edited, and abbreviated.

Today’s Infomagical challenge was to have a face-to-face conversation with another human being for at least seven minutes.  I decided to exclude family members.  In our home, we actually do talk to each other….all the time.

I encounter many people throughout the day, but I couldn’t remember the last time I had an actual face-to-face conversation with anyone that lasted over seven minutes.  Note:  I do a lot of talking TO people, but I do not have a great deal of give and take conversations with anyone beyond my family.  I talk to people, conduct my business, and move on.  I’m on to the next thing before I have allowed the time to process the first thing.  No wonder I often feel harried and stressed out.  What I had considered my ultra-efficient, businesslike manner may actually be undermining many areas in my life.  Could slowing down to communicate with those around me improve my life?  I was intrigued!

I thought about this as I drove to the office.  The idea of having a real conversation felt awkward.  I envisioned the shuffling of feet at the very least and worse case scenario, I was afraid of freaking people out.

I had my first conversation of the day within the first five minutes of work with a young man who had called off work yesterday, because he had an audition in Chicago.  Normally, I wouldn’t inquire about his personal business.  Instead of a brusque “good morning,” I stopped him on the stairs to ask him how things had gone with his audition.  He was more than happy to tell me all about it.  He had auditioned for a role in a network TV show!  He went on to tell me that it had gone really well.  In fact, I learned that he had been an extra on an earlier episode of the same show, and it had aired a few weeks earlier.  Later in the day, he stopped by my office to show me pictures from the filming.  I told him I would watch the episode this weekend and that I’d keep my fingers crossed that he gets a recurring role.

I felt psyched after this first conversation.  It hadn’t been difficult at all, and it hadn’t taken up too much of my “valuable” work time.  It had been easy, and it had created a sense of goodwill.  What was unexpected were the peripheral benefits.  Other people had been nearby during the conversation, and their moods seemed to have been lighted as well.  It felt almost festive.  How could a simple, brief conversation completely change the workplace environment?  I wanted to do this again!

I spent my day consciously connecting with people, and it was amazingly rewarding.  I had multiple conversations with people, all of them meeting my seven minute criteria.  While I wouldn’t say that it was difficult, it did require a certain level of purposefulness.  I had to remember to slow down and allow the flow of conversation to develop.  I had to listen and engage with the present instead of rushing off to the next thing on my agenda.  More importantly, I stood up and got out from behind my computer.  I sat my phone down.

This seven-minute challenge is such an easy concept, but it made me realize that real, human in depth conversation is something that had been missing from my life.  While I enjoy plentiful conversation with my family, today I realized that family-only conversation is insulating, safe, and limiting. While I am extraordinarily grateful for the blessing (and noise!) of my family, today I enjoyed pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and dropping my mask of professionalism to have a few simple conversations with the other people in my day.

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Past into the Future

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woman-future-ahead-forward-ss-1920-800x450It’s been a while since I have written in this blog or anywhere else.  I’m not sure why I ended up here tonight.  I was remembering my mom.  She died four years ago today, and I needed to read the words I had written years ago.  I wanted to go back in time for a few moments and remember what our lives were like during those last few weeks.  It wasn’t an easy time.  Four years later, the memories of those last years, and terrible last months, are beginning to mellow and become replaced with gentler, happier memories from my childhood.  I miss both of my parents.  I’m not sure if I will ever be able to see myself as anything but an orphan for the rest of my days.  As an only child, the shared memories of my childhood died along with my parents.

I often think of what my parents would think of my life now.  They don’t know where I live!  They have never been to my home.  They don’t know where I work.  For the first time, I have freedom from their opinions and judgement of my life, and yet I miss those same opinions that often filled me with anger or dread.

There has been so much change in my life over these past four years.  An unbelievable amount of change; it often feel like a completely different life.  So many people I have loved are gone now.  Even this past year, we have lost other friends and family.  Other people have left my life for reasons of their own or our lives have taken separate paths.  It’s no surprise to me that I do not deal well with change and loss.  For so many years, life was full of steadiness and sweet sameness.  As I get older, I realize that change is inevitable and beyond my control.  As a result, I have found a profound appreciation of those moments when life feels wonderful.  There are big moments and little moments of perfect just waiting to be acknowledged if we’re willing to recognize and honor them.

Getting older isn’t any fun, but along with age comes valuable experience.  If I have learned anything over these past difficult years, it has been to appreciate moments of peace, laughter, and contentment.  I have learned to slow down and enjoy what is in front of me instead of longing for what I feel is lacking in my life.  Another thing that is new, and I think good, is a new sense of impatience.  I am impatient and intolerant when it comes to bullshit.  For too many years, I wasted time and energy on people who didn’t deserve a moment of my time.  And I didn’t enjoy the frustration.  I enjoy making people happy.  That won’t change, but I’m not longer a “pleaser.”

I wish my parents could be here now.  I think they would approve of the new me.  They would be proud.  I often image how they would view our lives in this new place.  It’s so very different from our lives back home and anything they would have ever imaged.  I know they would be proud to see how their grandchildren have grown into such fine adults.

Most weekends find us with a house overflowing with people and laughter.  We live close enough for our sons to visit, and our family is growing.  Luke is engaged and will be married this coming summer.  Emily has a serious boyfriend from back home who visits most weekends.  Lola is a busy 7th grader with a group of giggly girlfriends who are here most Saturdays.  T and I are now the older generation.  Isn’t that a weird thing?  We are creating new stories, new traditions, and new memories.  Even as we mourn the past and learn to let go, life continues to surge around us and pull us into the future.

Connections

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Lola is 12-years old now, and that’s a difficult time in the life of every young girl.  Even Lola, who is amazingly intelligent and independent, is going through that awkward middle school stage of life.  She’s tall and thin, and her body has quickly become something that to her must seem quite unfamiliar.  I have spent the past couple of years equally worrying about how she is adjusting to a new school environment and being impressed with her “old soul” philosophical attitude about most of the challenges she has encountered.

I encouraged Lola to sign up for band this school year.  Unfortunately, she is not able to take both band and choir in this school district, and last year she opted for choir.  While she enjoyed it, I could see that musically, she wasn’t learning much.  She agreed to take band this year, but she was apprehensive about being a year behind the rest of the kids in her class.  I promised her that she would quickly catch up, and she has.

Lola met with her band teacher at the end of last school year to select an instrument.  Anyone who knows our family, or reads my blog, knows that music is a large part of our lives.  I was thrilled to see Lola testing instruments.  Though she asked me repeatedly to advise her on a choice, I kept my mouth shut.  This had to be her decision.  Learning an instrument can become one of the most rewarding things in life, but only if that is a personal choice.  It wasn’t a matter of expense as we own several trumpets, a trombone, two saxophones, three clarinets, and a drum set.  Even if she had selected an instrument that we didn’t own, I would have gladly added to our collection.  She chose the trumpet.  The other kids had all been waiting to hear what Lola chose, each wishing she would pick their instrument of choice. Her big brother Luke, the trumpet player, was thrilled.

If we still lived back home, I would have known any number of people who could teach Lola the trumpet, but we’re not back home.  We’re here, and I didn’t have a clue where to take Lola for lessons.  I looked online for the music center nearest our home and set up an appointment for a lesson.  Lola’s first lesson was several months ago, and I feel incredibly blessed that my random selection set in motion a wonderful chain of events.

Lola is shy, so shy that on the night of her first lesson she begged me not to make her go.  She had a tummy ache from worry, but I promised her that I would stay with her through the entire lesson.  Lola and I waited together for her teacher in the tiny studio lesson room.  When he opened the door, I was stunned.  He was a tiny man well over 70 years old, but his presence filled the room.  His hair was snow white, and his eyes sparkled.  I stared at him in amazement.  He reminded me of the man who introduced me to jazz, Bob DuBois, a trumpet player.  Bob died about a year ago, but the impact he had on so many jazz musician carries on.

Lola’s teacher’s name is Mike.  He has played with some of the greatest names in jazz.  He and I spent part of her first lesson talking about common likes and dislikes while Lola quickly relaxed.  Eventually, Mike turned his attention to Lola, and the lesson began.  Their connection was almost instantaneous.  They made each other smile, and I could see that she wanted learn as much as he wanted to teach.  He offered to take Lola’s trumpet home with him and give it a good cleaning and tune-up.  The next day, Lola and I went to his home, near our own, and her trumpet was shining like new.

That first lesson was months ago, and their friendship has blossomed.  Twice each week, 12-year-old Lola and 70-something Mike, spend an hour together.  Without fail, Lola comes away from each lesson with a smile on her face.  Her confidence in all areas of life has soared.  T and I secretly call Mike Lola’s trumpet therapist, because the change in our daughter has been so positive and dramatic.

Frequently, Mike sends me texts telling me how wonderful Lola is doing, how quickly she is learning.  Just tonight, Mike sent me this text.  “Pam, Lola is doing remarkable work.  I’m not sure if you have heard her lately, but her sound is superb and she is really really getting it.  She is easily my best student.”

Yes, I’m proud that Lola is a good student on the trumpet, but I am incredibly amazed to witness the special relationship that has developed between a young girl and an old trumpet player.  It is readily apparent that they both “needed” this relationship in their lives.  The rapport they have is heartwarming to witness.  I talked to Lola about it tonight, about just how special it is that she and Mike have found each other and this unique connection.  She said, “He’s one of my best friends.”  Wow!  I love this kind of thing.  When people step outside of their comfort zones, whether that be school, work, neighborhood, or even age group, all kinds of interesting people await.  Once again as a parent, I learn another lesson from my child.

Pinch Myself!

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I can remember the moment almost ten years ago when I told T, “Someday I’m going to work for The N…”  At the time, it seemed like a pipe dream or a joke.  Living in the Midwest, how did I ever think I would work for a national organization based in Washington, D.C.?  Of course, I was only kidding when I said that years ago.  I had just gotten home from my first big conference.  T and I were talking in the kitchen of the old house.  I was sitting on the counter in the corner where the edges met, and T was leaning up against the island listening while I talked.  I was full of enthusiasm as I told him all about it.  I felt like an entirely new world had opened up to me.  I wanted to learn more and more, meet people who knew more than me, and get more involved.  I had found my niche.  Fast forward ten years to yesterday.  I started a new job working for THE N…  No, I didn’t have to move to Washington, D. C.  There are field offices across the country, and I was in the right place at the right time (for a change!)

I took a week off between jobs.  During the entire time I was home relaxing between jobs, I held my breath.  I waited for them to call and tell me that there had been a terrible mistake.  “I’m sorry, but you weren’t really our first choice for this job.” or “I’m sorry, we just don’t want YOU.”

I took a picture of the building as I walked up to my new office.  Tears welled up in my eyes.  I’m here!  They’re actually going to let me do this job!  I stood on the drive as the humid, summer morning air wrapped around my legs.  I looked at the beautiful, old building before me, and I vowed to care for it and protect it.  I walked through the impeccably manicured gardens, and knew I would find time during my days to know these plants and help keep them free from weeds.  I entered, and I looked up the expanse of the spiral staircase to the galleries above, some full of art while others were full of potential.  I sat my bag down and positioned myself behind my desk.  This is where I belong.  I felt it immediately.  Like a mother knows her own child, I knew that I was meant to be in this place at this particular moment in time.

I hope I can live up to my own dreams.  So many times in the past, as quickly as a dream has come within reach, it was just as quickly snatched from my grasp.  Feeling happy or excited scares the hell out of me.  I don’t trust those feelings.  Is it because I don’t feel deserving of happiness?  I’m afraid I’ll mess up.  I’m afraid I don’t deserve anything good.

I hope so much this time is different.  I feel a kinship with this place, and I want to make us both proud.

Prioritize Much?

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Last weekend was a throwback to our lives of about five years ago; our house was full of people and bustling with non-stop activity.  Andrew spent a few days visiting, and Emily’s friend spent the night here on Saturday night.  I took a day of vacation on Friday, but there wasn’t a moment of quiet until late on Sunday afternoon.  While that was my normal life five years ago, the past weekend was a shock to my system.  Our lives have become quiet, peaceful, and ordered.  As much as I miss a busy household, I have come to appreciate the down time at the end of the day. It makes me realize how much has changed over the past two years.  So much.

T and I took a walk early Sunday evening. It was the first time we had been able to have a conversation alone in days.  We talked about the past weekend, and we talked about the future.  Where are we headed?  What is the next step?  We’ve made so many changes with our jobs, our home, our location, and we’re still trying to figure out exactly where it is we have landed.  Or have we really landed at all?  Is this home or is this still part of a larger transition?

Making this move was the right thing to do.  My motives were not pure, though.  I’m not sure if I was running to something or away from something.  Maybe a little of both.  Thankfully, this move has been good for my family.  The kids are all happy.  We are able to spend more time with the boys, and the girls have adjusted beautifully.  T is happier than I have seen him in years.  He loves his new job.  He’s made friends, and he has more free time than he’s had in years.  A few weeks ago, he told me that he feels like he’s semi-retired. Considering he works over 40 hours per week, this shows how much he really needed this change.

As for me, I’m not quite as happy or well-adjusted as the rest of the family.  I am unsettled.  I’m stressed out.  I’m not sleeping well, and I don’t know what I want.  If I take a step back and think about what in my life has made me happy in the past, none of those things are available to me at this point in my life.  I can’t go back to the time when I was home raising my children.  The band I once played with is no longer together.  Those were good times, but I’m not able to time travel or recreate those years.

I often wonder if I am destined to always be a step ahead or behind of really being content.  I get frustrated with myself for not just being satisfied.  We want for nothing.  We have a lovely home in a nice neighborhood.  Shouldn’t these things make me happy?  Yes, I should be happy, but it all seems kind of two-dimensional.  I feel like a sitcom family.  I have become the kind of person that I had always been secretly proud NOT to be.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this situation over past few weeks, and T and I have spent a lot of time talking.  How much of myself do I really want to give to my career?  This job has become all-consuming.  I’m spent and exhausted at the end of each day.  Too many weekends involve some kind of work-related event.  I am overwhelmed, and I don’t feel like I am making a positive impact.  I don’t know if it’s even possible for one person to make an impact here.  I’m discouraged.  In the past, I didn’t let hurdles get in my way, but this time, I think the hurdles may be too large for me to move out of the way.  I lay awake at night analyzing and planning strategies, and I can’t seem to find a possible solution.  I am one person, and I may be in a situation that is impossible to change.  This situation is complicated, political, ingrained, illogical, and unkind.

The illness of my friend Glenn has shaken me.  Life is too short too spend time being unhappy.  In the time I have known Glenn, I have often wondered about the logic of some of the choices he has made.  He has turned down work opportunities if they would have infringed on his time with his children.  He lives in a small apartment, yet he took his kids on yearly vacations, concerts, and weekends of fun adventures.  I’m ashamed to say that I often saw those expenditures as a waste of his money.  I see it differently now.  Glenn has only a short time left to live, and I’m sure that he treasures the memories he has created with his family much more than anything he would have bought with the money he spent.  Glenn’s life may be cut short, be there is no doubt in my mind that he didn’t squander the time he has had.  He has been happy, and he loved well.  I’m not sure I could say the same thing about my own life, and that has caused me to take a step back and assess who I am, where I am, and where I am heading.

I am not unhappy; I’m just tired and stressed out.  I am discouraged.  I have been chasing something that I’m not sure I even want.  There’s no passion in my life, just empty acquisition.

Today I spent hours alone my car.  I listened to music as I drove.  There were memories attached to so many of the songs that played.  Some songs I remembered playing with a band.  I thought of musician friends, smiles, shared jokes, camaraderie, and good times.  Other songs brought back memories of loved ones, times and places from the past.  What was special about each of those memories was what I felt in my heart.  My memories were connected to my life in a way that is not present in this drone-like life I am now living.  That makes me sad.

Waiting For A Plane

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People-watching is one of my favorite pastimes. I don’t often have the luxury of time to just sit back and be an observer. While I could have slept in this morning or lingered over breakfast, I rushed to finish packing my bags and headed to the airport as quickly as possible. I checked my luggage, made my way through security, and planted myself in a prime people-watching location.

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Conference Travails

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Every time I attend a large conference, I am struck once again by how immense this country is, the regional differences, and the incredible similarities of the people.  Last night, I sat at a table with people from California, Nebraska, Illinois, Delaware, and New York. While there were slight differences in our accents, there was no communication barrier even as thousands of miles separate our homes. Basically, our cultures are the same. We all do similar work, and our daily issues are quite similar. There is a huge comfort in the neighborliness of conferences and the willingness to meet new people to discuss new ideas.

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