Nice work if you can get it

I’m in California for the summer trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. It’s my grown-up version of summer camp only instead of swimming, lanyard making and s’mores, there’s a lot of existential angst and self-doubt with the occasional avocado toast. Damn, I wish I had appreciated Camp Massanetta more at the time. I guess youth – and summer camp – are wasted on the young.

Camp Cali.

Why California? Well, if you’re asking, you’ve never been here. If my spirit animal were a state, it would be California. Oh, and back in NC where I live my regular life, the temperatures last weekend were in the upper 90’s with heat indexes well over 100. This morning, when I took my walk, it was 56 degrees here in Pleasanton, with humidity of 28%. I feel like I got a Get out of Hell Free card for the summer. And we just won’t talk about that minor earthquake the other day.

But there’s no humidity!

The other bonus about being in California is that my baby sister lives here. We’ve spent most of our adult lives living a time zone or two away from each other – not on purpose mind you. She’s my best friend and having this much time with her really is like Christmas in July.

The west coast is the best coast when I’m with my sister.

She works in healthcare management and has a super big job at Stanford. She also works on average about 60 hours a week and is never really off. I would hate her job, but then again, so does she. Who wouldn’t? She’s devoted her professional life to providing optimal care for people living with cancer, but every day, literally, hour by hour, our healthcare system gets further away from patient care and ever closer to reducing treatment plans to spreadsheets.

I worry about her – she’s got a lot of years left to work – too many years to hate what she’s doing. The truth is a bunch of folks are in that situation and that just sucks, because I think there was a time when a lot of people liked their jobs.

Maybe I watched too much TV growing up and it warped my idea of work. Back then, people, albeit mostly men, loved their jobs, but were we ever sure what they did for a living? Like what did Ward Cleaver, Beaver’s dad, do except come home to a perfectly coiffed June every evening with his briefcase in his hand? Not a bad gig, but still a bit sketchy.

Living the dream, but where was Ward during the day?

For a lot of us, Mary Tyler Moore was the first role model for a single working woman. Mary Richards was an associate producer for a news station in Minneapolis and she seemed to really love her job – except for the part about not being paid as much as her male colleagues and having to be careful not to intimidate them. Gosh, how times have changed. Said no one ever.

 My girlfriends and I loved Mary and her cute clothes and groovy little apartment, and we always knew where we would be on Saturday nights. And if we were babysitting, you can bet those brats would be tucked in before that iconic MTM theme song started. Truth be told, I think I probably majored in Communication Arts because of Mary Richards.

Honestly, I blame my dad for giving me an idealized vision of job satisfaction. He was a sales manager for several companies throughout his career and he loved his job. I never once heard him complain about work. Not once. Sure, he might not have liked a boss or some stupid decision someone up the chain made, but he loved being on the road – a lot – and calling on his customers. He never had an office – except for the dingy basement one at home – but he worked in almost complete autonomy – and therein probably lies the secret to his job happiness. I think most folks would enjoy the work they do more if they didn’t have to do it with some of the assholes they work with. And damn if it’s not true about bad apples. I worked with a couple of rotten ones at my last job, but more on that later.

I’m at an age where several of my friends are retiring. Boy, that’s a word that has a whole new meaning to me now. Remember when you were young, and you heard about someone retiring – they had to be old and white haired and ready to sit in a recliner for the rest of their days. Thank God retirement isn’t wasted on the young. My retired friends are so busy they don’t know how they ever had time to work.

Well, I don’t have a recliner (I have a strong aversion to motion furniture) and I’m not retired. No, I was retired. Big difference. It’s a long story that has played out a bazillion times before me. Surely, you’ve heard it – a couple of weak men felt intimated by a strong woman who was their boss and decided to complain to an equally weak man who had a wee bit of power and, well, that never ends well for the strong woman. Or maybe it does.

Big difference.

A forced retirement gives one a lot of time for reflection, especially after the scars of betrayal have faded. Sometimes a sharp sting of disappointment will still surprise me – like a tooth that’s sensitive to ice cream, but time and validation have helped a lot. I’m profoundly grateful for all those folks who confirmed I got a raw deal, even a few – granted, a dishearteningly few – of the sheep who helped kick me to the curb. Validation doesn’t pay for health insurance, but it does improve your posture.

I’ve also had the gift of insight from unlikely sources, and not necessarily the people closest to me. We’re so reluctant to talk about hard things in our society – even with people we really care about. It’s just easier to assume that someone is doing okay after something bad happens. That’s a real shame because that’s when we really need to talk someone.

My friend Beyoncé, (not her real name), has been one of the wisest voices I’ve heard during my sabbatical from the work world. She is an incredibly private person and would be absolutely mortified if I used her real name. Funny – we weren’t really friends until I lost my job. She was a donor where I used to work and while we were certainly friendly, it was a professional relationship.

Coffee with Queen Bey has been a balm for me.

We have coffee every other month and we exchange emails fairly often. I love hearing from her – she’s a clever writer which I always appreciate, and she’s not afraid to talk about hard things. Sometimes I think she knows me – like really where I am these days – better than some of my dearest friends. She’s a bit of a Yoda figure in my life and I am thankful for her presence.

She sent me an email a few months ago that I still can’t get out of my head. She talked about the concept of losing face as it is understood in Chinese culture. It’s much more than being embarrassed. In Eastern society, you spend your life trying to build up your own relationships and reputation, while also trying to avoid causing anyone else to lose these things. You gain face more by being perceived as helpful and promoting others rather than individual achievement. To lose face means that your ability to function as a member of the social order has been diminished.

Beyoncé suggested to me that my struggles after losing a job that I dearly loved were more about losing my place in the world than my position. I had been a very public figure representing an important agency with people often seeking my counsel and opinion on things. Now, that was gone, and I felt invisible at times. She said I needed to find my face again. And she was right. I had attached too much of my identity to a job and when that was snatched away from me, I didn’t know who I was in the world.

“The noble art of losing face may some day save the human race and turn into eternal merit what weaker minds would call disgrace.” Piet Hein

Think about it. What’s the first question you usually ask someone when you meet them. What makes your heart sing? Probably not, unless you’re Oprah. Nope. What do you do? That’s the question and if you’re lucky, what you do does say a lot about you, but certainly not everything and perhaps not the most important things.

Ram Dass, the American spiritual leader and author, is the subject of a new documentary, Becoming Nobody, which explores the concept of identity. He says that we all want to be a somebody in order to keep our roles and identities safe and tidy. He explains that “we have so many protective shells, so many defensive patterns that only when we drop all of that can we begin to move from ego to soul – and then eventually all of our motives begin to come from a place of compassion.” Whoa, hold on, there! Ram Dass says that the questions we should be asking are, “What can I do for others?” and not “What do I need?”

Ram Dass is purported to be in failing health and that makes me very sad. His wisdom feels like a life raft in this Perfect Shit Storm we’ve been living in the past three years.

I’ve even turned to a few well-known self-help gurus in my search for what’s next for me. I usually avoid those types like Costco samples during flu season, but this life can humble you. I stumbled across a blog by author Mark Manson. He’s well known for his bestseller, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. Catchy title, right? Anyway, the blog I read was “7 Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose” and the question that really got my attention was number three: What makes you forget to eat and poop? Manson isn’t afraid to ask the hard questions. (Where is my eye roll emoji when I need it?)

#goals Photo: TIME

I answered quickly and clearly – watching the US Women’s National Team play soccer. My answer was truthful, but completely unsustainable as a life purpose since the World Cup only rolls around every four years. My other answer, like Manson’s, was writing. I love words and I love storytelling – not in a “it was a dark and stormy night” sort of way, but more as a communal experience. Writing has long been how I process the world – the good, the bad and the in-between. I love converting my thoughts to words and putting them in some form in hopes of connecting with someone else. That’s what this blog has been about, and it has provided some lovely perks along those lines, but again, no 401K.

I answered 100 questions in an online strengths quiz. Survey says…

I know I’ll figure it all out eventually and storytelling in some fashion will have to be a part of it. Meanwhile, I take comfort in the infamous words of Lloyd Dobler, the underachieving yet endearing kick-boxer in Cameron Crowe’s 1989 classic movie Say Anything. Lloyd pursues the class valedictorian, the beautiful Diane Court, and during a tense dinner scene, is grilled by Diane’s father about his plans for the future. Lloyd knows exactly what he doesn’t want to do which he earnestly articulates in the often recited monologue below:

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career. I don’t want to do that.

Like Lloyd Dobler, I’m looking for a dare to be great situation.

I believe in Lloyd Dobler and the value of knowing what you don’t want to do. After all, in the end, he got the pretty girl and a hopeful future. As for me, I guess I’ll have to write the rest of my story.

I might just make it after all.

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Walking my way home

the walker

My version of the Park and Walk. Bucket hat optional.

I drive to a lovely historic neighborhood near my condo to walk almost every day because where I live doesn’t have sidewalks. Today, I was halfway there when I realized that I had forgotten to put my Fitbit on my wrist. I almost turned around to go home and get it until that tiny voice of reason in my head said, “Fuhgeddaboudit.”

fitbit meme

Bad attitude.

I started my current walking practice – and that’s what it is for me – about a year into Trump’s presidency. Prior to the electoral apocalypse, I would mostly get my exercise at the gym near my home. I would listen to a playlist on my iPhone while I did the cross trainer for 45 minutes or so, but even with my ear buds on, I could not avoid the sea of televisions hanging above me like Mission Control. Almost all the sets were turned to cable news and invariably, I would see the BREAKING NEWS crawl on every screen and even though I couldn’t hear what the announcers were saying, it made me anxious – even MSNBC – my propaganda of choice. I would leave the gym filled with sweaty angst. Trust me, not a good look.

gym tvs

Must Not See TV.

I just couldn’t take it anymore and decided that I needed a more nurturing venue for exercise. So, I started walking. I mean seriously walking because, well, it’s not like I haven’t been walking for several decades. Now I don’t mean power walking. I certainly respect your choice if this is your deal, but power walking is just too portentous for me. And besides, it makes me flat-out giggle.

My sister-in-law got a Fitbit a few Christmases ago and crushed her step goal every day and got into great shape. I was still not convinced I wanted or needed another device to keep charged and updated, but when I made a break from the Television Zone at the gym, I decided I might as well measure my efforts each day.

fitbit time

If only it were that easy.

 

At first, I really liked the Fitbit. It was kind of fun to see how far I could go without collapsing and it is certainly a very encouraging and friendly device. It shoots off a display of fireworks and vibrates when you reach the all important 10,000 steps and sends you fun badges each time you hit a milestone. I was a Girl Scout, so the badge incentive really appealed to me. The Fitbit also gently nudges you to get up and walk every hour. And it keeps track of things like your resting heart rate and how you slept. I don’t really enjoy that feature because I don’t need empirical data to tell me that I don’t sleep well so I usually take it off when I go to bed.

fitbit sleep

I count sheep, but still see red.

 

I also don’t wear it out like a regular watch. It’s not at all pretty and I enjoy wearing a nice watch when I’m not exercising. Yes, I know Fitbits come in pretty colors now, but at the end of the day it’s still a device and not a fashionable accessory. This is not negotiable.

woner woman watch

Wonder Woman kicks Fitbit’s ass.

The Fitbit does reinforce discipline which has never been my strong suit – so I do appreciate that, or I did, until today. Today, I just walked – naked if you will. Just me and my podcast. And it was delightful. I wasn’t checking my wrist every so often to see how far I had gone – or how far I had to go. I just walked like in the olden days before Fitbit.

It was a gorgeous spring day – finally – warm and sunny and bursting with colors. I passed the tennis courts on my usual route and saw a tennis ball on the sidewalk in front of me. There were several folks playing doubles on the courts near me and someone must have lobbed one over the fence. I thought I should be a nice person and toss the errant ball back closer to the courts, but I guess I’m not that nice and I decided to pick it up and keep walking. And then I did something I haven’t done in years – I started bouncing the ball while I walked. And gosh darn, it was fun.

tennis ball

Multi-tasking.

So, I kept walking and bouncing my way along and I felt like a 12-year-old – only 12-year-olds don’t really bounce anymore unless it’s on an app. I finished one podcast and started another and saw the time on my phone. I had been walking about an hour and twenty minutes – pretty much my usual trek, but somehow, I had enjoyed it more.

I got back to my car and pondered what to do with the contraband tennis ball. Yep, I’m keeping it – right there in one of the cup holders. I definitely see more bouncing in my future.

I’m also going to try and be more mindful of why I started walking in the first place. There’s a rhythm to distance walking that I find very settling and peaceful. And I often feel connected to the other folks I pass along the way – strangers mostly, but we almost always acknowledge each other with a smile or hello. It makes me feel happy and I don’t have a clue what cable news they watch.

walking each other home

I just hope ya’ll are way better with directions than I am.

The spiritual teacher and author Ram Dass says that on our good days we’re all just walking each other home. I like to think this is true. And I love being outside with the birds and trees and so many delightful discoveries. I started taking pictures on my walks and posting them on Instagram with the tag #walkinginardmore. I often write in my head when I walk, and I love getting lost in the words and images. My intention is for these posts to convey hope and kindness and maybe even a smidge of joy – so many of those precious things that have been stifled for what feels like a very long time.

Here are a few gems that caught my eye over the past several months and they are all way better than BREAKING NEWS:

tulip tree

ardmore church

ardmore dad.JPG

 

ardmore rocker

ardmore peace

I love finding these treasures on my walks and  most days when I finish, I feel more grounded than when I started. That said, I have no plans to kick my Fitbit to the curb any time soon. It helps keep me honest about regular exercise and no harm can come from that. No, I’m just going to try to remember today’s lesson: Walk like no one’s counting.

kindness ardomore

Just do it.