The Greatest Thing

We eat white bread in my house. I feel a little bad about that. Shouldn’t we eat some kind of whole grain or darker bread? I grew up on Roman Meal.

Being “white bread” is an insult. It’s meant to imply being an unquestioning consumer, someone who takes what they are given and does not have their own personality or culture.

It’s true that most grocery store have a massive selection of several types of mass produced white bread. American bread is a very specific product. Germany, France, Africa and Russia have a very different understanding of bread.

I remember when my friend from Russia was looking through by cupboard and found the Poulsbo bread. She argued with me, very sincerely, that it was cake. And Poulsbo had whole sunflower seeds in it!

In the 19th century, most American households consumed bread made in the home. It was the woman’s job to take the bread from dough, through rising and kneading and baking and then to the table.

At that time, food safety was still a big issue. Food got transported around, and you bought at your own risk.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair described a horrific environment where animals were slaughtered and butchered to be sold as meat. They described sick and infected animals being slaughtered in one scene, and even described how one of the workers fell into the sausage machine and no one stopped production.

I’m pretty sure it was exaggerated, but after it was published in 1906 people were horrified. And that is how the Food and Drug Administration was born.

At this point in our lives, we feel confident that the grocery store will provide us edible food. We all eat a lot of it! But at the turn of the 20th century, that was not the case. When people saw dark bread, not only were they afraid of insects being part of the food (EWWW!) but there was the issue of mold.

A particularly nasty kind of mold on rye bread could kill you.

So. White bread became a symbol of health and purity.

Look! It’s white. You can see for yourself if it’s pure.

It was a big deal when wrapped bread was presented to the buying public. The loaves that previously were only trusted if they were made in your own home? Well, you could trust these loaves of bread. They are pure white, and no one has even TOUCHED them. See? They are wrapped and sanitary.

Wait for it…

THEN in 1928 they invented sliced bread. And boy was that great! Sliced bread still stands as a waterline for great achievements.

What could be better than pure white, wrapped and SLICED bread?

Women were freed from the tedious chore of making bread. Their families could eat and be healthy.

People could live their lives. And right then in history, their lives were all about the Great Depression and then World War 2.

With all that excitement, the fantastic achievement of pure white wholesome food lost its power. They had become part of the landscape.

And the landscape was changing. Counterculture was a thing. They beatniks and their disciples the Hippies despised white bread.

If you had any kind of personality, if you were woke at all you wouldn’t eat that plastic mass-produced Wonder Bread. Make your own! Use whole wheat!

Then then new movement was for more natural foods, and Silent Spring made everyone aware of pesticides.

So, the pure while food movement was superseded by a new green and brown food movement.

But the societal awareness and resulting government oversight of food safety and handling is what led us to be able to confidently demand new types of food.

My friend recently drank a Naked Juice from a convenience store and got food poisoning. Poor thing, but how ironic!

I can laugh about it because I don’t have to worry about her dying from this. In America, we have created a marketplace for food that is safe and secure. People die very seldom from food they buy

That might be a better invention than sliced bread.

New Year New Story

It’s been a crazy couple of years.

New year’s day is approaching and it makes me look back. Last year at this time I was signing the 5th job offer in 2 and a half years. 6 jobs in 3 years were far more than I had planned for.

Which meant that I had gone into a lot of new work places and had to figure out the lay of the land. And all of them were new kinds of jobs I’d never done before.

The first of the five was especially tough. I remember after the few months sitting in a meeting (nearly identical to a dozen previous meetings) and being terrified that I didn’t know what I was doing.

I was pretty sure that I would fail publicly and spectacularly.

Heart pounding, empty minded terrified.

So in those meetings, when the same words and arguments were being said, I was on fire. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t see a way to the job done. And I didn’t see a way to get support from my boss.

Since nothing was happening in the meeting, I flipped my notebook to the back page and started making new notes:

I approve of myself. I deeply and completely love myself.

This was the antidote to the terror.

A slow antidote to be sure. But I was convinced that everyone at my new job thought I was a failure. I was totally ready to agree with them.

Even before they said it.

That sense of failure was like an eclipse over productive thought. How could I possibly get any thoughtful work done with this terror taking up all the brain cycles?

So even stuff that I knew I could do, I couldn’t seem to get started on because I was so overwhelmed.

Until I found that antidote. Loosen the python and declare that no matter what happened I had my own back. I didn’t believe it at first, that I approved of myself. I filled paged with that sentence before it sank in a bit.

What amazed me was that once I loosened the stranglehold that this terror had on me, I could do my job better. I could think again, and had a better chance of succeeding.
There is such a thing as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It wasn’t until I changed the script that I could start a different story.

The script before had been that I was an imposter and a failure. The new script was that I was a worthwhile human being. It was a step up from failure, not a big jump but one that I could believe in.

And changing the story let the sun in. Once I found something more positive to say to myself, I could see where I could make some progress.

Like I said, it’s been a crazy last few years. And as I look forward to what’s ahead, I am remembering what I learned then. Choosing my story is a really good thing to remember.

I want to pick a good one.

The stories cats carry

Last year, after the last pageant practice, Veronica and I set off in search of a cat.

I had been wanting a cat for a few years. My previous cat had been dead for more than 5 years, and I knew it was time. I didn’t have a job, and that scared me.

When I didn’t have a job, should I really take on the new responsibility of a new pet?

And yet, maybe that was the best time. Veronica was SURE we should get a cat.

So we set off. We looked at and petted kitties, but Veronica had a spec: “I want an orange kitty.”

What about this cuddly calico?

Mmmm….. no. Isn’t there an orange kitty?

We found the last orange kitty in the surrounding area, a tiny starved kitten with a meow that would fill an auditorium.

Simon was the last of his brothers to get adopted. He was born in a shelter. And his little bones were so prominent, I learned more about the skeletal structure of a cat than I’d ever realized before.

He came to us with bite wounds that opened and bled for several months.

But he LOVED us. We fed him regularly, and he wanted to be next to us all the time. When I wake up in the morning, and I go to the bathroom first thing, this little orange cat would trot up and leap onto my lap while I’m on the toilet. He could not bear to be separated. He would lean into the pettings and scratchings.

Until he turned his teeth on me.

I could imagine him thinking “I love you! I love you!” until he suddenly thought, “I could kill you!”

He is after all a cat equipped with sharp teeth and claws.

And this cat had an affectionate and appreciative heart.

He would flip very unexpectedly from enthusiastic affection to bites that would leave teeth marks on our arms and hands.

If I wanted to anthropomorphize him, I would assume that his tough beginning with mean brothers (I assume it was his brothers, maybe it was his mom) who bit him when he was a helpless kitten.

He was traumatized, and learned some terrible habits of what love meant and what he needed to do to protect himself.

Then again, do cats have that same understanding as we do of psychological norms?

Undoubtedly not.

My invented narrative of why my cat behaves this way could be utterly nonsensical to him.

Pets are often the carriers of invented narratives from their people. We like to interpret their body language and likes and dislikes from our own perspectives.

Simon the Christmas cat has been given an invented story.

And often times friends and family who we meet around Christmas time get narratives assigned to them too. I will try to make a story to understand behavior that seems foreign to me.

But I could be entirely wrong. No doubt I am wrong in some percentage of my assumptions.

I would like to make room for these other friends and relations the way I make room for my kitty’s foibles. With love, and making room for what he lets me know he needs.

I like that strategy for promoting peace on earth.

Talk about Shame

There was a song on the radio from a couple years ago:

Can we pretend that the airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars?
I could really use a wish right now

Veronica and I had decided to go to dinner just her and me. Daddy wasn’t feeling great, and I was happy to be with her.

She’s getting a lot better at carrying her end of the conversation.

We are a conversational family.

Last month, Chris read to me from the news that it was the 100-year anniversary of communism.

“Yes, I read that! There was an essay in the Wall Street journal, dating the start from the Russian Revolution. Did you see it attributed 65 million deaths to communism?”

“What’s Communism?”

Stop.

Good Question, Veronica.

At this point in history, my daughter can live almost 9 years and not know the answer to that question.

“Remember how I talked about how people need a place to work so they can feed their families and have enough money to buy Christmas presents?”

She nods.

“Well, factories were built to make things and the people come work in the factories and make some money. But the people who built and owned the factories made a lot more money.

The people who worked in the factories started to think that wasn’t fair. And they came up with this idea that they should just take the factory and keep making things inside the factory but they would share all the money that used to go to the people that owned the factory.

Only it didn’t work out they way they hoped.”

She’s looking at me, full of questions.

“We are going to read Animal Farm together.”

Chris wasn’t sure that was a good idea. But Veronica loved it, getting very invested in all the animal characters. As soon as we finished, she wanted to read it again.

That was a month ago. This night I was listening to the radio and that song from my past came on.

Can we pretend that the airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars?
I could really use a wish right now

Veronica wants to know about my life. I want her to know who I am, and that means not treating her like a child.

“Veronica, this song reminds me of a time when I was really sad. It was from a few years ago.”

“What happened, Mommy?”

“It was because I was having a lot of trouble at work.” How do I explain what work politics are like?

“This guy at work who was in charge, even though he wasn’t my boss, had lied to my boss about me. He said that I didn’t tell him where I was going or what I was doing.

So my boss called me and told me that I was being bad.

I was so mad, because it wasn’t true, and I knew I had been telling people where I was going.

So I went outside, and walked around. I was furious, and I didn’t want to lose my temper. One of the people I worked with come out, and asked ‘What’s wrong?’

I told him that I didn’t want to talk about it, but he said he was my friend. He said I could trust him. So I told him what happened, and I didn’t want to be around that guy who had lied because I might punch him in the face.

Well, that friend went upstairs and told the guy what I said.

It wasn’t until the next day, that I realized I had proof that I had been telling people. I wrote a big email to my boss saying that I had been telling people and that this guy had lied, and I didn’t want to talk to him alone again, I would someone to help protect me.”

My daughter’s eyes were very big.

“So at the end of the day I got a call saying I was dangerous and I wasn’t allowed to come to work anymore.”

“What?!”

“Yes. They had to have someone come investigate.”

How do you explain HR to an 8 year old?”

“Kind of like the principal at school. That people said they would find out what really happened and decide if I was allowed to come back to work. She took two weeks to decide, and then when I came back, she said that she had asked everyone and they all agreed that I was the problem and I could only come back to work if I did certain things, and was worthy of returning.”

“Imagine, Veronica. If the principal told you that all the people in your class didn’t like you and agreed that you were the problem.”

Her eyes were turning red. “Did you speak to these people? I mean, how could you talk to them after that?”

This kid.

“Well, I tried to speak to them as little as possible, you can bet.  It hurt my feelings so much that all of them had decided behind my back and without telling me that they thought I was a problem.

But I did everything that lady said I had to do, and I wasn’t about to let them kick me out.”

She gave a fist pump.

“That’s what this song makes me think about. I was very sad. I cried every day, and when I heard this song, it answered the hurt in my heart. I really wanted a wish.

But guess what? That lady? It turned out SHE lied. I was so hurt and scared for 2 years, that I didn’t realize it. Then I started to carefully ask my coworkers: did this woman ever talk to you?

They all said no.

So she lied.”

Jaw open. “How could that be?”

“Remember Napoleon and Squealer? People who want power will lie.”

Big sigh.

“Yep. People will use lies and shame to make you afraid and do what they want.  Say things like ‘you promised.’ and make you feel like you have to believe them. But they are not trustworthy if they use shame.”

Fear and Shame are probably more active in children’s lives than in adults. For me, as a parent, I choose to present who I am to my daughter and let her know that she is not alone in these types of circumstances.

Thank you Orwell, for giving me a beautiful allegory to explain how people lie and manipulate.

 

It’s Not for Me

What with the holidays coming, people are worried about spending time with their family.

Families can be tricky. It’s hard to know what to say. And when to realize you know that you shouldn’t say certain things.

There are safe subjects: helpful tropes and platitudes.

I don’t like safe subjects. I like to be able to go deep.

But deep waters are dangerous. Someone could get hurt.

It’s good to have some prepared things to say.

When I was 18 and my friend came up to me so excited that she was engaged–to a 34-year-old rock’n’roll singer who had found religion. I was so shocked that I couldn’t think of what to say.

It was almost a minute before I remembered.

“Congratulations,” I said.

She took a step back. “Thank you!” She shook her head, ” You’re the first person who has said that.”

I was not surprised to be the first. I was surprised I had remembered to say it.

I recognized the value of these sayings and started to collect them.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Best of luck.”

And my ambiguous favorite:

“Take Care.”

It’s not really about what I feel in these moments. It’s about giving a token of recognition to the person in front of me who needs it.

I see you. You.

I can wait. It’ll be my turn before long.

Mythic Gratitude

Thursday is thanksgiving in America. We tell each other the story of how the pilgrims came over from England to find religious freedom, and how so many died but they made friends with the native people who were here. Then they figured out how to have a harvest.

Then in November, they celebrated and were thankful with each other.

Is it true?

Well, it’s not entirely true. It’s certainly not the whole story.

The whole story is almost impossible to get. And I don’t mean that just for the pilgrims.

If I want the whole story, I have to pay attention while it’s happening. Each moment. But I do now have omnipresence and omni attention. I am mostly distracted and thinking about other stuff while my life is happening.

How aware am I of what the whole story of even my own life?

Many years ago, the historians of America decided to tell all the school children the story of the pilgrims and the first thanksgiving.

This decision reminds me of the Aeniad, which was sponsored by Augustus Caesar in the last few years BC.

Augustus wanted a good story that told his people what they needed to hear, a story that told them who they were and where they came from.

It was loosely based on facts they already knew. There was a guy named Aeneas in the Iliad.

But the part where he escaped and founded Rome? maybe. Could have been.

So Virgil put all the pieces together so the Romans could feel good about themselves.

There is no doubt that the historians who repurposed the first thanksgiving story used the Aeniad as inspiration.

How much of the virtuous kindly pilgrim story is true?

Some part. And even if it’s a very small part, it’s a nice thing to hold up as an example.

Let’s be thankful for where we are now, and leave behind the struggles of the past. Let’s make alliances and friends with people around us.

Let’s feast and be happy. Right here. Right now.

I’m very thankful for this moment. And all it contains.

Perfect

For most of my professional career, I’ve been in telecommunications. In telecom, there is a maxim:
Five Nines

That means that our systems (mostly telephones) must have 99.999% availability. They must work 99.999% of the time.

It’s kinda cute how they give one thousandth of a percent as wiggle room.
Does anybody really do everything exactly right 99.999% of the time?

Telecom systems get pretty close. I’ll tell you how we do it.

We have systems and we put these systems in place very very carefully. We make sure that every person/entity that touches our systems understand what the processes are and track what they’ve done.

We are very aware of any changes. We keep track of errors and even near-misses, the things that didn’t actually break but might have.

And the engineers that live in this world are very very specific kind of people.

We strain at gnats. We THINK about straining at gnats.

It’s a glorious environment for perfectionists. There are designs, plans, backup plans, tests and proactive measures.

There are reports and definitions and demarcations. It’s beautiful.
You know what there isn’t?

Creativity. This stuff is not meant to be played with.

We fear change. So much that there are very serious “Change management” processes.

And by change, there’s a really strict definition.

Upgrading a piece of software? SERIOUS change.
Swapping out one old server for a new server that’s exactly the same? HUGE change

That’s what allows this 99.999% to be remotely possible.
I say remotely, because it’s usually four nines. 99.993% or 99.996%
I did say that for most of my career I was in that environment. I did well in that environment.
Now, I’m in a different environment. A couple years ago, I was trying to understand why I found my days so exhausting. I realized, I am not getting that little payoff that I got when I performed a task and KNEW it was done precisely right.

I thought, “I’m not in the world of five nines…it’s more like nine FIVES!”

55.5555555%
Getting it right more than half the time seemed like the goal.
Hmph.
And for most of the people in the world that is far more reflective of their reality. After all, the definition of “doing it right” is more fluid in life than in telecom.

For things like parenting and housekeeping, it’s more like retreat and call it a victory.

Perfectionism is not a progressive stance.
I am realizing that it’s worth exploring the idea of good enough.

Perfectionism can be a very tidy trap. It’s better to be done than perfect.

Tri-Cornered hats

As an American, tri-cornered hats always mean the heroes of the American Revolution.  AKA the good guys.

I had to re-examine my assumptions about these hats last week as I was watching “The Rise of Catherine the Great”

Russians wore tricornered hats too. In this series, they put fur around the corner. Ekaterina, known as Catherine the Great to English speakers, wore this fur-trimmed tricornered hat when she dressed as a soldier. Most of the time she wore gorgeous dresses and fabulous jewelry.

The series is in Russian, with marginally translated English subtitles. But the dresses and the winter palace made it very worthwhile.

Thing is, the tricornered hats were tough. Tricornered hats are as big a “good guy” flag as a super hero cape. I mean really!

But the world of Catherine had very few good guys. I wouldn’t even say that Catherine herself was a good guy.

There was a lot of intrigue and power struggles going on.

The tricornered hats clued me in that all this was happening during the same time period as the American Revolution.

What? There were other things happening in other parts of the world OTHER than the American Revolution. This is nothing we ever discussed in school!

In the world portrayed in this TV series Peter the Great’s daughter Elizabeth is ruling Russia. It turns out that another “great” was gathering strength. Frederick the Great (is this getting a little tedious, all the greats?) of Prussia was ripping through Europe.

Prussia was a proto-germany. Germany hadn’t yet congealed. It was a bunch of different little states, so when Frederick the Great took his little army of Prussians and tore through Europe it freaked everyone out. He wan’t supposed to be able to do that.

It was called the 7 years war. We don’t know about the 7 years war in America, even though it spanned 5 continents. Here it was called the French and Indian War. George Washington got to be a baby officer in that war—a sixteen year old lieutenant.

But in Europe, England and France were fighting, when Frederick jumped in and took advantage of their distraction. England allied with Frederick and kept fighting with France.

All this happened immediately before the American Revolution, and it was really the first world War.

One thing I’ve picked up about world wars is that they seem to repeat. Like, 20th century world war 2 was really an extension of World War 1.

So, as it happened, the American Revolution was really ANOTHER world war, and a continuation of the one just preceding it.

Remember how England was allied with Prussia? And France was fighting Britain?

I DO remember from grade school that Ben Franklin persuaded the French to fight for America. Now that I’ve learned the history from a tv series, I can see that it had less to do with Benjamin Franklin’s charms and more to do with sticking it to England.

I also remember that the Hessians fought AGAINST the Americans. Since the British had allied with Frederick just previously, it makes sense that they would get German troops to fight for them.

Catherine the Great was amazing. And with a combination of this Russian historical drama and Wikipedia I put the pieces together and really learned something about the world outside my front door.

 

American Man

Week before last I got to go to a weeklong work training.

26 people, four women.

I was pretty sure I’d be the only one, but when I found out there would be four of us I wondered if we would all group together and make our own enclave. Or should I say coven?

When I got there, that is not what happened.

It turns out I like working with men, which is good because that’s all I’ve done. I’ve always been in male dominated careers.

Yep. Never a line to the bathroom when I’m at work.

I started out in information technology, and those guys were far more likely to try to impress me with their knowledge of database configuration.

Now I’m management in construction, and they don’t do they. These guys are simpler: they wink at me.

Both groups do a lot of “mansplaining” but the new construction guys are more tedious because the subject matter is more basic.

Although they do a better job of offering to lift heavy boxes.

So there’s that.

At my training, I got to meet people from all over the country, which is fun. I met a guy who was from the Minneapolis office.

“I’ve been to Minnesota. Everyone is named Krista.”

He was actually from California, but moved to the twin cities because his GF was from there. Now she’s his wife.

“Is her name Krista?”

He laughed.

Then there were the guys from Texas: Boots. They know the answers, but they don’t rush to tell you.

The ones from New York, they tell you. They tell you like they are mad you don’t know already. But that’s just they way they talk. They aren’t really mad, you know?

They actually will help you and be really nice about it. As long as you are listening, they are very sweet.

The guys from Chicago, well, don’t interrupt them. I have learned this. They will talk fast and ramble on, but there’s this thing about interrupting that can totally derail the conversation. If I interrupt with a comment, polite Chicago boy will stop, which was not required, and when I invite him to keep talking, he’ll consider that and interruption too and we have to wait quite a while for him to gather his courage enough to continue the conversation.

It’s a bit awkward, but they are nice guys.

I have to wonder if these guys have a whole other way of talking to each other that is different from how they talk to me, a woman.

I wish I could find out.

It’s not that I want to be a man. I just kind of wish I could find the zipper and unzip this woman suit and step out into the world a smooth green genderless alien.

And that I could interact with people based on my knowledge and experience, not on the shape of my body.

Haven’t found the zipper yet.

THe claws of Simon

I like my cat. He is very interested in me, and the people in my family in a way that cats often are not.

He DOES nap, as cats do. But he wants to know where people are. He will position himself at the nearest window where one of us has left and keep watch at that window for a while until we return.

Not if we are gone for hours. But he’ll stay there while we take the trash out. And if he can see us, he’ll stay quite a while longer.

Atypical cat behaviour.

Also, almost every morning he will come and insist on lap sitting. He NEEDs to sit on our laps.

I usually get up first, so I get to have a purring cat on my lap as my eyes focus enough to read my facebook posts.

Then he will start to use his claws.

He has sharp claws. And he will use them NOT in a playful way, but in a “oh yeah, I have lethal weapons on my person and I am a killing machine” way.

So all of us have small wounds.

I remembered though, that we have a set of fingernail clippers. And when I remember, and catch him at the right moment, I can trim his claws.

I remembered this morning. And then I got to watch him try to scratch the couch, as his blunted lethal weapon claws skidded off the fabric.

He was confused.

I was delighted.

Good Kitty