What’s for dinner?

My father’s sister Aunt Pat turns 90 this month. I got to get together with a bunch of the family to celebrate her.

We were catching up and somehow Aunt Zelpha was saying how she never had the knack of milking the cow.

“Lola was always the best at milking. We always had a cow, and then a calf sometimes”

They all reminisced together, and it was revealed that they grew all the food that they ate. The cow for milk, chickens for eggs and meat, and for greens: Chard.

They had a huge row of chard to keep them in greens every day.

“How did you cook the chard?”

“We boiled it.”

This flashed me back into the old days of “eat your greens.” It was something from black and white movies, greens as a slimy glob of boiled leafy veg.

Greens have changed now. We have steamed and sautéed vegetables. I blend spinach greens into my breakfast.

But that was what greens were for my grandmother. She grew her greens.

“When we had too extra chard we gave it to the chickens.”

This kind of life was a lot of hard work for my dad’s family. Now it has glamour. Growing all your own food? It’s the dream of many hipsters.

But this was world war two. And they were in California farmland. They had the room and the climate to grow food. There is not room for chickens and chard in the city.

They said they ate the same thing every day. Potatoes and gravy ever day.

My life now does not have that monotony. We have different foods every day, even if it’s the same regular rotation.

I had to go back and look at what it meant to eat less than a hundred years ago. We’ve done a lot of inventing when it comes to food.

Refrigerators were a huge advance in our ability to get enough food. I briefly worked for a refrigeration company, and once people figured out how to do it, it is not a complicated machine.
But everything seems easy in hindsight.

When people had a cold place to keep their food, it lasted a lot longer. And when food lasts longer, that gives rise to a new category of food:

LEFTOVERS

You know what they called leftovers before refrigerators?

Food.

Seriously, guys, food was scarce. When my dad was a kid, people spent 40% of their income on food.

How lucky for them that they had a thrifty mom and kids to help grow their own food.

Like I said, that only worked because they had the location and the land to do it. Poor people in the day were actually known for being shorter than more wealthy people because of lack of nutrition during their growth periods as children.

So a fit healthy person back then was someone who was tall.

Shaking my head.

Things have changed. Now it’s a mark of poverty in America to be fat. We really figured out how to make food, preserve it and transport it. This is an amazing time.

As I was able to see, hanging out with my aunt to celebrate her 90 years, and to hear about how far we have progressed.

What’s new?

I taught myself to play the piano when I was a teenager. But the thing is, I hated playing the same thing. I found it sort of humiliating to play the same song over and over.

That’s what’s supposed to make you better though.

I got older, and when I got to live on my own and make my own choices the sameness of my teenage life was shifted. I could go! I could do! I could try and experiment and see what was going on in the world.

It turns out life is full of sameness. Even when I might wish to have new experiences every day, so much of my day is exactly the same. Some breakfast most days. Some routine.

I put on the same shoes. I drive the same route.

Sometimes I think I have won the game of life, because I have tried things and decided on the perfect choice for me. THESE shoes. THIS car.

This career. These friends. This favorite restaurant and THIS dessert.

I know what I like.

And as soon as I think that, I think again. Maybe there is more that I haven’t tried that would change my life and make my smug choices all wrong.

Have I been living a fool’s paradise?

What I need is something new! That NEW shampoo. That new album or vacation.

Maybe what I really want is just a lot more new.

It’s Easter season. It’s spring. I’m listening to stories of resurrection.

New life.

And I must be born again.

Must I? Didn’t I get a few things right when I was born the first time?

Except that tempting lure of what else I haven’t tried.

I am grateful that spring comes every year to remind me to be born anew.

Sometimes it births a new version of exactly the same thing.

Brand new and different don’t have to be the same thing.

There are two joys, one in something entirely new. And also in seeing new what you have loved for a long time.

Look Forward

This has not been the best week for me. I’ve been sick all week, and also a bunch of annoying life issues have been pestering me.

My website is down. And some work stuff.

I did find myself annoyed, and working on what I would *like* to say to certain people. Or more realistically stuff I would like to think about saying to certain people. I knew that to actually say them would be not only not helpful but also likely harmful.

Still. It was a favorite obsession to rehearse how I’d been wronged.

During my time of rest, trying to recover from being sick, Chris has been watching and old documentary series produced by the U.K.: The World at War.

Britain invested 10 million dollars in today’s money to make a documentary series about what happened in World War 2. Such a huge historical event deserved serious examination.

I do not have the love of documentaries that my husband and daughter do. But these were interesting, and when I watch them with Chris I have the most amazing personal narrative track that adds even more.

He knows these events inside and out. We were watching how the French focused on the Maginot line, and how the Germans drove their tanks past it and took Paris. Once Paris was conquered Hitler came in to receive their surrender.

Now, the Second World War is recognized as anyone who has looked at it, as an extension of the conflict that was barely resolved in world war one. So when the war ended, the Germans had to sign an armistice to France. The Armistice of November 11, 1918. One hundred years ago.

It was signed by the Germans in Ferdinand Foch’s private railcar.

Another famous part of the treaty of Versailles, was for “Germany [to] accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage”

This War Guilt clause required Germany to give war reparation to the victors.

And it was deeply resented by the German people.

It was that resentment that fed Hitler’s rise to power. He fought in World War one, and he utilized the resentment to gain power.

Here’s the thing. I knew that, I’d read that. But it was like reading it from an encyclopedia.

When I was watching this documentary, I learned how he had the French surrender to him it because clear. Hitler didn’t tell them, but the French were required to go to a secret location that turned out to be
THE SAME RAILROAD CAR THAT GERMANY HAD SURRENDERED IN WORLD WAR 1

That was chilling. This was revenge and it was served very very cold. He had planned this out and played it for his population.

It really hit me hard how much this backwards looking resentment had the people by the throat. And this choking umbrage and bitterness had no good fruit.

It made me want to let go of the petty resentments in my life. Yeah, I’m sick and things are annoying. But it doesn’t do anyone any good to cherish those perceived wrongs.

The real life cartoon character of Hitler is a big warning lesson. Let it go.

I really do have better things to do with my thoughts.

Adversity

I’ve been doing this weekly wonder since July 2010. That’s 8 years. When I started it, I wasn’t sure how often I would do it. But as you can see, dear reader, I have done it! Every week for 8 years now.

I have the blog that I started in 2002, which is what this feeds into. So, in order to not panic I told myself, in the even that I couldn’t think of something to write, I could always choose a blog entry and recycle a piece I was proud of.

But so far, I haven’t done that.

This week though, I was stumped. I had about 6 ideas that I was not at all proud of. I started writing three of them.

And I just couldn’t make it make sense.

What was wrong with me? How come I couldn’t come up with a piece?

I knew exactly why. Today, I have a bit of a cold. I woke up with a bit of a cold yesterday as well. Perhaps I will recover my full health tomorrow. I feel a little muzzy headed.

But that is not it.

Why couldn’t I come up with a piece that was worth writing?

And I almost couldn’t even come up with the wherewithal to choose a re-run, my cherished back up plan.

I had listened to some inspiring books, watched a few less inspiring movies. Played with my family. And I was

STUCK

What was going on?

I finally remembered one of the reasons I started the weekly wonder email list in the first place.

I’ll use a vague-ism.

Adversity

The fact was, at that time, I had gotten very stuck in changing tides o the internet and SUPER microscopic examination of my life and I was really sure that I was experiencing terrible adversity.

But, as often happens, I talked with a friend. I wasn’t’ even my best self, talking to this friend, and he listened to my moaning of being underappreciated and not getting internet traffic, and he told me about this idea of a mailing list.

EXACTAMUNDO!

So I started it and have been faithful every since.

Now back to this week. I was stuck and wondered if this would be my first creative fail.

This goes out tomorrow. I usually have something written and queued up by Sunday afternoon.

I hate the last minute. But as I blow my nose and clear my throat, I finally realized why I was stuck.

Adversity

Or, as I know now how to call it, imagined adversity

I had spent the week and the weekend imagining how I was underappreciated and undervalued.

I didn’t WANT to think that, but I had decided to focus in on certain metrics and could barely think of anything else.

No wonder the creative juices were dried up.

And once I remembered that pattern and recognized it in my current experience, I could find something worth talking about.

It broadened my perspective to remember that I previously had experienced and overcome a crappy, claustrophobic mental pattern.

And by writing, my beloved writing, I could overcome the negative spiral. And I could write about it!

My commitment to my blog made me struggle enough to pull my head up and remember the bigger world. Thank you, weekly wonder. And thank you readers, for helping me remember the wonder of the world and get unstuck.

Language in Time and Space

I just found out that Audible has Great Courses from The Teaching Company. I love those! I used to get them from the library on Cassette and CD

That’s what Libraries had back when. Cassettes, and CDs.

Something about listening to a lecturer who is not going to give me a test or homework is so pleasant.

YES, I want to know all that obscure knowledge. I will remember it, but I don’t’ want to HAVE to write a bibliography in Chicago or MLA style.

The course I just bought and finished is called The History of Language.

John McWhorter teaches it. I have a new teacher crush.

Towards the end of the lecture series, he calls the people who love this topic language heads.

Yes, I am a language head. I first encountered linguistics in my senior year at San Jose State University. It was so fascinating, I considered if I might pursue it. I went to the teacher

“What do people do with linguistics degrees?”

“Oh! They are so useful! If you have a linguistics degree and know a computer language, you can write your own ticket.”

Professors can say dumb things sometimes. I knew enough to know that if you know a computer language, you can write you own tickets. College degrees are entirely optional.

But here comes Professor McWhorter waltzing through my earphones.

He is the first one who made me realize how very different spoken word is from written word.

Written word is something I love so dearly. It probably colors my speech quite a bit, as I try to say things with my mouth as I would if I were writing on the page.

Even so, spoken word relies so much on context and intonation.

If you can point to something, a lot of grammar becomes redundant. One thing I have heard professionally, only 60% of the meaning of speech are the words spoken.

Emotions and context are impossible to separate from spoken word.

I remember when I was learning Russian, and I knew almost nothing. If I pointed to something I wanted, and handed them a notebook, they would write down how much it cost, and I could start to learn how to buy things. “How much is it?” “Skolka Stoeet?” came later. And the numbers came after that too.

So I could get by with not much more than a pointed finger and a raised eyebrow.

Same place same time, I could communicate.

Written words make it possible for different place different time communication.

And because of that naked context, the written word have to have much more careful conveyance of meaning, with specific grammar and word choice.

Good writing also is supposed to paint a picture of senses and emotion. Metaphor, colors, descriptions of sights and sounds in a way that same time same place communication does not need.

I love to write and I try my best to make my written words live.

But I have a life outside of this virtual page. My career has been spent on telecommunications. Etymologically, that means far communications.

Telecommunications is same time, but not same place. It’s also technologically compressed and lacks the full sound range that my voice next to your ear would carry.

I’ve often advised people on how to use telecom technologies to build relationships. Yes, start by meeting people face to face. But to continue the relationship, try to meet using video communication regularly. This is even more important in cross-cultural teams.

But there is another interesting recent language communications phenomenon.

Same time, different place in WRITING. This has to do with social media comments and texting. Or even rapid emails back and forth.

We all know that the occasional emoji can add to the tone and allow for better communication.

How is this changing our language?

As McWhorter likes to say, if human history were a day, written language appeared at 11 PM

So this moment of same time, different place written communication has been less than a second.

I would love to find out how it develops.

The Meaning of life, the Universe and Everything

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the people come up with a big question, “What’s the answer to life the universe and everything?”

You may not know the book, but you’ve probably heard the answer:

42

There is a dark irony and utter absurdity in this book. Written in 1979, there was a apocalyptic luxury in the western world. Yes, we had plenty of everything we needed.

Except a sense of safety. Have you heard of nuclear proliferation?

By the 1980’s we had been eating well and accumulating stuff with reliable regularity. And yet we didn’t have a sense of safety.

To dial the lens back for a broader view, prior to the dark nerd humor of the hitchhiker’s guide, history had provided the darkest events ever.

So much  had been learned from the factories and efficiencies of the industrial revolution. Nazis turned these tools for their social engineering plans. This moment brought human slaughter and suffering of nearly unimaginable proportion.

I have recently read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Viktor Frankl is a famous psychologist, and equally famously, a Holocaust survivor.

He describes the experience of living in the camp, and working in horrendous conditions. They were underfed to the point where their bodies began to visibly consume their muscle mass to sustain life. They were sadistically beaten and abused.

All this is ugly, and hard to look at.

When I read Frankl’s book, he brought something new. His fascination with psychology had begun before he entered the camps, and in the camps a wide scope for exploration.

Did he really find the meaning of life in the concentration camps?

He declares: “Life is unconditionally meaningful.”

Take that, Hitchhikers Guide.

We do have meaning, every single one of us. Without having to prove it by anything.

Unconditionally meaningful

It’s not that we have to prove ourselves worthy of the air we breathe. He says that life does not owe us, we owe life. Our best efforts, our best selves.

Do we suffer? Let’s not suffer if we can possibly avoid it, and yet there is a lot of unavoidable suffering in this life.

He ought to know. His experience gives him the right to say this.

So if we are experiencing unavoidable suffering, we can bring our life and ourselves to that suffering ennobles us and we ennoble it.

Damn.

I wasn’t aware that was an option.

There is an enormous truth to the idea that life is unconditionally meaningful. If we know that the meaning is there, no matter what, that changes the search.

If I I know that I will find a thing, I will not give up searching. And like Douglas Adams said I might need to check my assumptions:

“I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.” (28.2-6)

I’ll keep looking. I know I’ll find it.

Olympic talent

It’s Olympic season and we’ve been watching world-class athletes. There are more sports than we can remember that are competing in a competition of the world right now.

I don’t know how to do the things these athletes can do. But as I watch and listen to the commentators giving critiques on their performance, I begin to see that the position of the parts of their body seems to affect the outcome.

I might root for them, yelling at the TV “Keep your back straight! Watch the feet! THE FEET!”

As if they have not spent thousands of hours learning how to do the amazing things that brought them to this pinnacle of athleticism.

Who am I to tell them to do better?

Of course I remember when I was younger, or in better shape, and could enjoy the feeling of my body being strong, quick and flexible.

I admire them, and am awed by what they can do. I have a vague idea of how hard they had to work to get there. I know I will never be what these elites have become.

And sometimes I listen to the commentators critiquing and myself judging what they are doing and think, who are we to be so critical?

Have we done the work?

It’s exciting though, to watch. My daughter was bouncing out of her seat as we were eating lunch at a restaurant and the Olympics were playing. Ski jumps.

We were fascinated.

Chris said, “It reminds me of Eddie the Eagle. Do you know who that is?”

He was famous in his time. As a citizen of the U.K. he wanted to be an Olympic athlete, and though he could ski, he didn’t qualify.

One thing the British Isles does not have is tall mountains.

Eddie learned that there was no British ski jumping team for the 1988 Olympics, so he put himself forward as the contestant.

He was not that good, but he showed up. And he got in.

And as I watch these Olympics and feel inspired I can realistically know that sometimes my super power is in showing up.

I can show up and give it a good go.

That’s often what is needed most.

a blueprint for how to vision

https://www.earlytorise.com/your-vision/

Now here are those questions you’ll need to answer (remember to answer them from the point in the future when your vision has been reached):

What does your organization look like?
How big is your organization?
What is your organization famous for?
How do you measure success? (Be specific)
Why does anyone care about what you do?
What do you refuse to do?
How do people who work here feel about their jobs?
What is your Mission and Movement?
How do you, the founder, feel about the business?
What are the 3 most important things you offer your clients?
What’s your role in the business?
How do you find prospects?
What kind of people will you need to hire? (skills, attitudes)
What are everyday tasks?
What do employees, clients, community, and peers say about your biz?

Set aside 30 minutes when you are most creative, lock the door, avoid all distractions, and put it out there.

Invisible emotion

I’ve talked before about enjoying fantasy genre fiction. Is there a hero that fights against huge odds to win? I’m in!

Right now I’m reading Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. In this story, there are spirits, called spren, that that on visible form. One of the things they represent is the emotion of the characters. There are shamespren, gloryspren and honorspren.

What would it be like to have my emotions be so readily apparent to the people around me?

There are as many opinions as they are people, right? But when it comes to emotions, I live with mixed emotions about almost anything. It has to do with the stories we tell ourselves.

Am I happy because I got a raise? Or am I resentful that it is so small and too late?

Valentine’s day is coming. It is well known that many men are trepidatious about what to give their wives or girlfriends on this day, because of how it could be received. Will she be happy, or mad? It’s tricky.

These emotions are tied to the story we tell ourselves about what is happening.

Are those stories true? Do we know what the reasons and motivations for how those around us are interacting with us?

Did that guy ignore me and slight me, or did he just not hear me?

We can’t know. And it is possible the people around me aren’t entirely sure why they behave the way they do either.

I think it would be disastrous to have external manifestations of my emotions. I would not want to have to explain the way I feel at any moment.

Some of my feelings come from how I feel about myself. And a lot of them come from how I think other people feel about me.

Emotions are so complicated. And if I am unable to fully understand my own feelings, how can I assume that I can understand someone else’s’?

So did that guy mean to cut me out, or did he just not hear me?

I am thinking it serves my interests to give everyone all the benefit of the doubt.

If I can’t know, why not choose the happiest interpretation of events?

There are no little spirits to tell me otherwise, so I can choose what serves me.

Welcome to the Jungle

I started college as soon as I finished high school. I thought I’d have a head start and get done early, right?

It took me a long time to finish. Stuff. Supporting myself, and family stuff.

But I loved school so much. I love college and I wanted to keep going. Years went by when I couldn’t take any classes.

It was a long deferred hope. And it was a cherished cherished cherished goal.

Until one year, circumstances aligned and I could go FULL TIME for a whole semester. Then that glorious moment when I realized if I went ONE MORE full time semester I could actually graduate.

That one year was the only time I had spend a full school year in college. All the night classes finally added up and I could spend a full year.

What a year! Studying and reading and carrying fat books. These teachers shared their knowledge with me, and I looked at the requirements in the handbook. I checked them all off and I GOT MY DEGREE.

The worst part about getting my bachelors’ degree? Being done.

I loved sitting in classes and learning new things!

What was I supposed to do now?

Seriously. I’d had this nurtured hope for so many years. Once I’d accomplished it I didn’t really know what to do.

I felt like I’d been travelling a paved road. It was steep, sure. But I always knew exactly where it was and how to travel it.

Once they handed me my diploma, the road ended.

It was the jungle, baby.

Now if I had somewhere I wanted to go, I had to break out a machete and cut a trail.

That’s a different thing altogether.

It’s very nice to have the trail already laid out. All the milestones and detours specified.

It’s beautiful.
But going on my own? That’s a mess.

I’m not likely to get there directly.

And it’s an unanswered question of where “there” even is.

I’m finding it’s changing a lot.

Lately, I think it’s even more important to pay attention to what I am looking for in this path.

There are still other people in the jungle, and they will come alongside and pull me onto their path.

I can get swept into their orbit, and be influenced by their idea of where we are supposed to go.

Yet, in the end, I am the one who knows where I am aiming for. Other people can’t tell me what I want.

It’s better if I listen to where I want to go. I’m the only one who knows that.