Doing the relocation calculation. The weather is cold and I want to be warmer and nearer to the ocean. Let’s take bets on whether it will happen in the next 6 months.
Hold on a sec. The Apple Watch has been wavering between pretty, bright, and glowy-shiny and a complete waste of money. I observe people at work using them daily. You can be talking to them, and I am guessing the watch vibrates to alert them of, you guessed it, more incoming email. STOP EVERYTHING, let me look down at my wrist, this could be important. So, lose 1 point for ruining conversations. Then there's having to charge the damn thing every day, one more thing to charge along with your actual phone, and maybe your headphones, if they're bluetooth, and lose 1 point for having to manage devices even more than previously. Then there's going for a swim and losing it, something my coworker related to me a few weeks ago. That's like $400 right down the toilet. Total point loss exceeds my minimum threshold for fun, no matter how bright and blingy.
I had a heck of a day at work yesterday. A guy with a huge reputation for losing his shit turned a 5 minute conversation about coaching one of his employees on project management skills into a 45 minute discussion into which he interjected (as soon as I finished explaining the issue) how disappointed he was in me for [insert 29 completely unrelated reasons], reassuring me how "deliberate" he was in using that word "disappointed." Sadly, he did not use air quotes to underscore that disappointment.
It took me 30 of the 45 minutes just to drag the conversation back around to the original issue. What I dislike about people who employ this blitz tactic of avoiding the original topic is that the employee in question - whom, it turns out, we both care about - remains at issue. The manager spent so much of his time trying to deflect any criticism of this person he was completely missing an opportunity to build a relationship with me, his ally, and missing an opportunity to hear valuable feedback about his employee, someone we both would like to develop.
Admittedly, he has a reputation for doing this stuff. He has such a bad reputation among his peers and direct reports that he does not get much feedback about anything, and I told him, "I know that's what you're doing, you're encouraging me not to approach you with feedback in the future." He was on a tirade for a long time after that, unable to stop his own emotions from escalating. I stopped him twice in the 45 minutes to suggest that, until he could get his feelings under control and go back to a calmer state, we postpone the conversation altogether.
It's interesting, when you do not let someone emotionally hijack you, that is take your emotions out for a spin, you can actually hear what's happening quite clearly in the conversation, and because you're not joining in with the ultra-spun-up reaction, you might pick out something going on with their personal life.
For example, he brought up reading the 5 Languages of Love. He was trying to put this big, corporate spin on it, a point totally lost on me because all I could think about when he said that was: his wife has made him read this book because she is out of options for dealing with his bullish rage. I've read that book, too, because I know where I have had gigantic gaps in my relationship skills. I know you do not go grab that book for no reason.
That made me feel some compassion for a guy who does not have much in the way of relationships with anyone in the office, which is bad because he's a senior level employee in charge of a lot of operations. And we could stand to have a set of people skills when dealing with a large team and a lot of responsibility, because, let's face it, these people will not perform out of fear. They will not be forced.
I eventually got home, child in tow, and we three carved pumpkins, and my mind was able to rest from the tumult of the day. Part of me knows this is how life in a competitive environment goes - it is very kill-or-be-killed. I know at times most people are hoping you go away, you quit, throw your hands in the air and say, "I can't." When I was scraping the insides of my pumpkin out, I felt that way. I just can't keep doing this every day. It was really relaxing to take my time and carve away, to spend some time with people who are not trying to shove in the spear.
Whatever I do in my weekly tasks, I try to include not doing the bad behavior I observe. That occurs in every work environment, at every job. There are hosts of people lining up to show off their least desirable personal qualities. Sometimes, work is the only place they can go hog wild with their roguish bullshit. Certainly someone can't get away with it at home anymore, because his wife is going to whip out the 5 Languages of Love and remind him what screaming at her will get him.
It is raining today, which sucks for the kids, but handing out candy will happen. Kids will come outside for candy, rain or shine. I am taking a page out of their book today, I am going to revive my childlike wonder, adults can suck it! I am going to remember that children bring us back home to where things are simple, where things are straightforward and easy to understand. That is the place to be!
Today was the last day the mammogram van (or the mamm-o-van as I call it) was on site at work. I showed up for my appointment; the van is a huge RV, very pink, and parked right outside the main entrance at work, fully viewable through the glass windows up 8 floors. I don’t know why I blush at the thought of 2,000 of my coworkers observing me going in, and I’m pretty sure they are all aware I am over 40. So, why care?
Losing 20 lbs has made getting a mammogram more challenging – one extra view added to get the side-boob. “Hold still now, and take a tiny breath in and hooooollllllddddd it…OK!” The nurses are pretty awesome. I am glad they are women. They get really close up and handle you a lot to get the best images possible. And you wear a huge pink gown. What more could you ask for. Not some Larry Nassar shit. No thank you.
Good healthcare is something to be thankful for. I was looking into the urban development stuff. A friend sent me an initiative tackling the health and well-being of African-Americans in my city (and why it matters). The report went over the goals – addressing education, chronic diseases, lifestyle risks, health insurance and access to doctors, maternal and child healthcare, mental health, violence and injury, and HIV/AIDS & other STDs.
Having access to healthcare early on in life and then having routine and good healthcare throughout life adds to the quality of the person significantly. The report had a financial slant to it (the why it matters). It does matter to the person because education, chronic diseases, mental health issues, violence, incarceration, sexually transmitted diseases and early death all go hand in hand and cost any economy dearly. It also fucks the lives of the people – not just the primary person, but their children, their families, the people they live around – the wider community. There’s a huge psychological ripple. That is quantifiably costly.
My parents did not go to college. My brother did not go to college. On my father’s side, my cousins did not go to college. But everyone went to and finished high school (except my grandparents, they stopped at 8th grade).
What all of them had was a good infrastructure – family, friends, church, a place to live, a job, an awareness of how not having any of these things could derail their quality of life. It makes a difference to have role models to guide you along – looking among your peers, family members to see what you could be doing. It becomes unacceptable – with the usefulness of peer pressure – to let the utilities lapse and get the lights shut off.
A lot of kids go home to a cold house in the winter. It sucks to be poor. It sucks when there is not enough to go around at home and the adults cannot get it together enough to make things better. When my parents became disconnected from their support system their shit fell apart.
My great aunt died this week – she had a long life. Longevity is also a product of good healthcare, the decreased exposure to chronic disease, violence, etc.
Yes, the mamm-o-van leaves red marks all over your chest, and it is weird to disrobe in the presence of a complete stranger and have them twirl you around like a baton to take x-rays, but it is something to have the privilege of health screenings and good health. Free flu shots are definitely more prevalent these days. Some antibiotics are free of charge. I get a physical at no cost from my health insurance annually, and I take advantage of it. Good dental health also increases physical health tremendously.
I remember meeting this older woman when I worked in healthcare. I went to her house to open her case, to get her home health services. I drove to a relatively nice neighborhood and knocked for a long time until she finally answered. She was blind and in her late 80’s so that was why she couldn’t make it to the door fast (something I did not know going into the situation, her granddaughter said, “She’s hard of hearing, so knock hard.”)
She was also living in a house packed full of stuff from other relatives, everything dumped in every room. She had a little trail between the rooms she used to guide herself around the house. The fridge was empty.
I asked what she had eaten that day. Just a cup of coffee and a piece of dry toast, she said, in a tiny whisper. And the day before? The same thing.
“Wait right here,” I told her. I came back with groceries. I know most people doing this type of work end up stumbling upon the demise of others, and when you can do something, it is good to be able to do it. I made her some lunch and she perked up considerably. I canceled all of my appointments for the rest of the day and we talked for hours. She was a person deeply connected to the civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s. She was with Dr. King marching for her freedom. She was history, right there in that little condo!
I remember being in a skirt that day (that was probably the last time I was in a skirt before the most recent kilt) and I rolled up my sleeves and reorganized the whole house while she directed me to put things here and there. She told me stories while I plugged away, and later, I made her dinner, and she finally stopped me to ask what was next – for her. A woman who just met me was asking me, a total stranger, what was next for her. This is how much need is in the world around us! If we can rise to meet the need, it is ours to address. I haven’t always done this, either. I drove past a guy laying in a sleeping bag under an overpass for an entire winter vacillating around what in the world I could to do increase his quality of life. Almost anything, girl, just go do it. But, I did not.
I assured her I would follow up with her family and took down their names and phone numbers. And I did reach out to each of them, and was met with a lot of resistance and suspicion for my inquiries and I backed off a little in order to gain their trust. Their grandmother needed a knee replacement – it was the only reason she could not walk, the inward bending in of her knee was terribly painful. I went over her health insurance with them, but they just thanked me and wished me on my way.
Before I departed, I took the granddaughter with the power of attorney to the side and insisted on a home health aide to ensure food, meals, hygiene – small quality of life things were taken care of. Nothing pisses me off more than old people and kids getting abused.
I went back to check on her all the time. No one ever called the police on me, and I did not need to call social services on them because they made good with their promises. And she answered the door just as happy as could be, giving me a hug and a big smile.
I followed up a few years later. She had been moved downtown to a big hotel – considered an old folks place, the Jefferson Arms. The hotel has long been closed and she has passed on, too. I have never forgotten our time together.
If you have a support system, if you are able, or if you are a capable support to others, life is so much better. There are times when we are without and it hurts, but it makes the times when our needs are met so much sweeter.
Thich Nhat Hanh said when he has a bowl of rice or a piece of bread to eat he pauses and thinks how lucky he is to have something to eat when so many do not have anything at all.
You do not need to be feeling guilty about all you have. It is enough for us to start off with thankfulness.
This book, titled “Low Rent Housing Project for Negro Families Project MO. 1-1” is hand typed from 1941, when it was decided to raze seven blocks of “the worst slum district in St. Louis.”
This action displaced 459 families and this tiny book described the conditions of the housing before they were evacuated (loose term for forced out) and where they went afterwards.
While the majority either rented movers or had friends and family help them move 4 families moved their belongings on foot. Think that over for a moment. Carrying everything you own to somewhere else. They had a good case for destroying the slums, if you are fine with uprooting generations instead of fixing the poverty and housing.
It was not straightforward. It was a long slide into poverty. It started as Irish immigrants began to arrive into the North Area from 1860-1880. When they saw displaced Jews from Poland and Russia arrive in the late 1890’s the original high society had already fully vacated, and the Irish, who took their place, took off westward just like their predecessors. At one time Biddle Street was the Jewish heart of St. Louis.
By 1910, the neighborhood’s ethnicity took another directional turn. “First came the Sicilians, quickly followed by the rapidly increasing Negro community.”
Why was it rapidly increasing? Because the Civil War displaced everyone including a whole lot of sharecroppers who went north to the city.
I am equally Northern Italian and Sicilian - four generations back. Beyond four generations I’m Spanish, Italian, and a little bit of Greek (and a hint Jewish). For reference, Sicilians do not even consider themselves Italian. They are blobbed together here with the poorest laborers, as tenants, not owners. As definitely less. Just like the African Americans (who, incidentally, did not willingly get on boats like my family did to come here).
This book has a lot of bias and I’m trying to take it for its period-relevance without rolling my eyeballs so hard they pop out of my head.
The highlight to me is in the nuance. The westward drift changed occupancy from owner to tenancy and the landlords, citing a lowering of their property values, were allowed to let the properties lapse into crapholes. Then they could truly embrace their other name: slumlord. So, exactly who caused the slums in the first place...
As of 1941, when this report was complied, the area was described as follows: “...nothing more than the shell remains of many of the once fine old residences of the North Area. Smoke, soot, weather and lack of upkeep have taken their toll. Almost all of the residences have been “converted,” making for more dwelling units in the structures.”
That was caused in part by zero city-oversight and a lack of housing codes, which were not fully developed until later when things like fire codes became top of mind. The book on the history of the St. Louis Fire Department is excellent (and reprinted for almost nothing available on Amazon). A lot of bad stuff (like raging fires that plowed the city down repeatedly) had to happen to drive standardization but way too late to save the City from its white flight.
The Sicilians and Italians left, too. That left the African Americans. A statement describes what they did when they arrived: “They brought with them the simple culture of the plantation and tried to fit it to the ways of the city, often with disastrous results.” They spend a long time going over demographics in pictorial form, which is not so different to how we present data today.
I have been been fascinated by the evolution of housing projects in this area and have read the entire process from the 1950’s when most of the housing projects where established through to the 1980’s mainly to understand at a higher level the impacts to the economy over time, to the people and to the city itself - to answer the questions of why it has struggled to thrive since the 1920’s.
Fascinating stuff. I might go into urban development here for my next career. The lottery is up to a billion bucks and if I win, I’m going to reopen the neighborhood schools with quality teachers paid well to draw people back to live and work in the community again.
Meanwhile, I am continuing to learn as much as I can because you don’t need a billion dollars to start making a difference.
Thich Nhat Hanh is my spiritual leader. For real. One of the benefits of being a religious studies major in college was having a professor who was wild for Thich Nhat Hanh (that’s “Tick Nat Han”). I was assigned “Being Peace” in my first class. I read 6 others after that, but I bought Peace Is Every Step a dozen or more times since 2002, when I first got it for myself. It is pretty beat up, but I have retrieved it for re-re-reading this week.
For a while, I handed Peace Is Every Step and (simultaneously) bibles out to random people and friends. I am unsure what people have made of me to this point in my life; such a contradiction of terms. It takes a sturdy person to befriend me. The point is, I felt strongly connected to both books, I have studied both closely, and beyond studying, I have kind of clung to each of them a little stronger or lesser so over the years.
Today, I sat on the runway in Seattle for 59 minutes and 14 seconds before the fog lifted enough to take off. Then I sat through another 4 hours aflight. Further, I could not dial into any of the meetings my boss asked me to listen in on (who knew you could listen in on meetings while suspended at 30,000 feet, but you can). The wifi was again, dead, and so I was left alone with my thoughts, and Plants vs. Zombies + a few Netflix downloads. These are the times when I go to Peace Is Every Step.
In Peace Is Every Step, on page 41, in the chapter entitled Hope as an Obstacle, I have the first sentence underlined: Hope is important, because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. Suffice it to say this book follows a similar theme about being in the present moment. And in this chapter, the emphasis of having hope and still being in the present moment. Because, to hope at all, as a verb, is to exist in some other space and time, not in the present.
“When I think deeply about the nature of hope, I see something tragic. Since we cling to our hope in the future, we do not focus our energies and capabilities on the present moment. We use hope to believe something better will happen in the future, that we will arrive at peace, or the Kingdom of God. Hope becomes a kind of obstacle.
If you can refrain from hoping, you can bring yourself entirely into the present moment and discover the joy that is already here. Enlightenment, peace, and joy will not be granted by someone else. The well is within us, and if we dig deeply in the present moment, the water will spring forth.
We must go back to the present moment in order to be really alive. When we practice conscious breathing, we practice going back to the present moment where everything is happening.”
I jotted something in the margin further down the page near the bottom. You can have hope and be in the present moment. Not to yearn is the key. Judging by the pen, it was written in 2002 – the year I graduated from college, age 30. I went to grad school 8 years later and did a masters in business and, whoa, a hamster could have done that degree. Alternatively, the religious studies degree challenged every part of my critical thinking. It made me wonder, more than anything else, and I haven’t wondered as often since. Thay (Thich has a nickname, which means teacher, and I don’t know how to pronounce it, but it’s probably “Tay” if I had to guess) has a chapter about losing the cookie of childhood – which is essentially losing your sense of wonder because everything else has crept in to spoil your most innocent enjoyment.
And this is where I stood for a long time. I felt the cookie of childhood contained an element of hope. Like a kernel that kept you going. Except hope can become an obstacle if you are not living in the present, if it is a carrot out before you, distracting you from the many-pesterings of the present. The present will demand its own attention. It is only when we decide to face it that we can tackle it properly.
At times, hope seemed like all I had.
I hoped for better health. I hoped I had the strength to go through another day, to make it home, to rest. I did not hope I kept my job, I just did my job the best I could and knew if I had it taken from me, it was not because of me.
I did not apply this same theory when I hoped for other extraneous things like better relationships. Relationships are better when everyone is doing their part; hope is not necessary because the rubber is meeting with the road. I don’t know why I lived in suspension for so many years hoping and hoping for changes to my life when hope was not a factor. It was an obstacle.
Now think of it for a moment, where is hope an obstacle to you, and where is it an inspiration?
Thich Nhat Hanh is no stranger to pain and suffering. That’s why, to me, he has credibility. He has not lived a life of luxury. He hasn’t been living in a little box, unaware of the world’s happenings. He has purposely engaged in non-violent peace efforts in scary points in time.
Lion’s Roar posts a lot of great Buddhist articles, and I like them because they are straightforward, and doable. These things can be put into regular life right away. Anyway, he knew about suffering because he lived in Vietnam when it was under colonial French rule, and during a war between the French and the Vietnamese. When Thich Nhat Hanh Met A French Soldier is a great essay, and I know you will go read it, because you have forced yourself to read all the way down the page this far, so you’re ready to go over the waterfall and finish off your cookies and milk with this fine article.
I still see hope as a big part of every day, but I do not hope for the future as long as I used to. It is a practice as much as anything else to reappoint yourself as the holder of your own happiness, which is right here, right now. Practicing takes a lot of repeated attempts and that is why people meditate upon the simplest things even half a century into their meditation practices – it is a practice that you do all the time knowing you are not going to reach perfection. It is not in our nature.
Away from the philosophy is the reality. The change of pen shows I wrote the following in August, 2010:
My family is dysfunctional
Each of them cause me great pain.
I must learn how to forgive and love them
Despite this mess,
Despite my continuous resistance.
I need to live on in peace.
This is the only way.
Living categorically is also something I do not believe in anymore. I enjoy the gray in life, not the black and whiteness. I do not think there is an only way anymore. My family still causes me great pain, and I still do not know how to both forgive and love them yet. My continuously hard head continues to provide resistance to change, too.
In the very back of the book, in yet another pen, undated, I wrote down 9 walking meditations. I was big into walking meditations for a while, and now and then, I will pause where I am and do one. Thich would remind us to use something to bring us to consciousness – like a church bell, or some periodic sound at work – that when we hear it, we pause for a moment and breathe in and out, mindful of our own breathing, returning to ourselves.
My favorite of his walking mediations is this one, and I’ll close with it.
This wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.
I made it to my 530am meeting, but I did not comb my hair or wear pants :)
Creating within the protective, mildly narcissistic/over-sharing shell; low-scale pressure, nothing to live up to except to frequently teleport into the open field of mind-space. I have turned off the comments section; if you're burning to talk with me, click the icon at the top of the page and send me an email.