I have a lovely little page-a-day calendar in my office. It’s full of quotes and illustrations. Most are at least interesting, some are absolutely excellent, and some days — perfection. (Exception: it turns out I’m not in love with classic Texan quotes… why do they always use the word ain’t?!)
Here’s what I read: Chin up, muggle. There’s more than one way to be magic.
There’s always more than one way. But magic has go to the be the goal, don’t you think? Magic in some sense of the word, anyway.
Seth and I just got back from a rather magical vacation over the long weekend. I wrote two partial posts in the airport and got another mostly pounded out on Tuesday night. Lots of stuff to say, but when it’s not right, it’s not right. So Glinda the Good Witch and my friend Melissa, saying no without actually ever saying no, and the conundrum of commitment to the uncertainty of IVF are all presently on hold.
The spark will hit me when it’s time.
In the mean time, I’m a muggle with her chin up and tall shoes on. My head looks square, but my legs look great. Compromises.
A-a-ron Rod-gers just won celebrity Jeopardy… so that was kind of awesome. And got me re-hooked on Jeopardy. Which I love love love. Even though I don’t know anything about classic literature or operas of the twenty-fourth and a half century. True story though, one time I took the online Jeopardy test. They never contacted me. I’m convinced that it’s because in a moment of complete and total idiot-level panic I typed in “positron” instead of “proton” for “this positively charged atomic particle…” or something along those lines. Such a ridiculously dumb answer, and for a chemistry major no less. This has been my secret Jeopardy shame for many a year.
Even more secret a shame than the fact that I was all about middle school Quiz Bowl once upon a time and took great delight in the fact that 1) I was the only girl on the team (boom!) and 2) that I wore the most gloriously denim jumper that ever denimed to the competition in 8th grade. Holy crap did I rock that thing. In my own mind anyway. Smart. Denim-clad. Barettes in my hair. Maybe I’ll make that my story if I ever do get on Jeopardy. I hope I can tell it awkwardly enough– lord knows that people with legitimately cool stories at the break never get very far. Just, next time around, it’s proton… proton… proton…
Seth and I are headed to SoCal to visit the Lemas over the long weekend and I’m crazy crazy excited about it. SoCal because that’s where they live. Like all the time. Can you even imagine?
One of the coolest things about the Lemas is that we have never lived any closer to them than whatever the astronomical distance between Michigan and California is (but also never further than the even more astronomical distance between DC and Cali, so we’ve got that). And yet, we’ve remained super close. I’m sure it helped that Chris was Seth’s boss for a good long while… but he’s not any more and we still super love them and I’m pretty sure that was never the only thing. Regardless, as a result of that distance, our relationship is completely and totally travel-fascinating. FASCINATING! We have gotten together to hang out all over this lovely country of ours (plus Mexico!) and that makes any and all of my Lema Memory Montages extra special and fun.
This weekend, I spent a TON of time doing yard work. I got a bug up my butt about needing to remove all the plastic lining from the garden beds in our back yard and replace them with brick and for some reason, I decided that removing all the plastic, trenching the sod, pulling all the weeds, and purchasing, laying, and securing 126 individual 10 lb bricks would be a one person, one day job, most certainly… and when I was done, I was going to maybe mow real quick and use the string trimmer around the trees and along the fence line.
Completely delusional. Also, my hamstrings are still KILLING ME.
But, in my delusional state, I had lots and lots and lots of time for mind-based montages. And the Lemas kept popping in on account of, as I said above, 1) we’re going to see them this weekend and 2) such montages are especially brilliant.
During one such sweat-soaked, sun blasted (because, guys, it got up to like 75 degrees this weekend– snap!!!) montage, I stumbled upon Chris’s notion of “sphere of influence” and realized that finally, after something like7? maybe even 8? years… I think I finally get what it means. Finally! And it’s not even ridiculous at all. In fact, I love it. Just like all love every other thing that is Lema. Of course.
I don’t remember what hotel or what city or what year it was… but once upon a time, long ago and far away, Chris mentioned something about his desire to have influence. To have a sphere of influence, I believe, or at least that’s how it imprinted in my brain. I don’t know that I was necessarily even part of that particular conversation, I may have just overheard something between Chris and Seth, but it was such a weird thing to say (I thought) and such a foreign concept (to me) that I really did just kind of let it tumble through my mind over and over and over again over the last several years.
Like a pebble in the sea, that idea is smooth now.
(And that’s a particularly appropriate metaphor here because I have been to not just two oceans with the Lemas, but also a legitimate sea — The Sea of Cortez.)
At the time, way back when, I knew Chris as Seth’s boss. At a software company. He was different, of course, because he’s from California and really introduced the whole “working from where you are” concept to the company. He put a lot more emphasis on intelligence and value and culture than most (well, any) other “boss” I’d ever known and he super appreciated all of those things about Seth, so naturally, I loved him. At the same time, Chris also had this little side life that I was vaguely aware of… computers, internet, WordPress, something…
And in that arena, influence was his goal.
Sooooo… what? Like he wanted to be the boss of computers and the internet and WordPress or something? Because that’s what influence means, right? Being the boss, in charge, in control, telling people what’s what and how’s how and who’s who.
Not to Chris. And not in reality. Where Chris lived.
Turns out, influence is not synonymous with power or control or position. If it’s forced or mandated or manufactured, it’s not genuine influence at all.
What Chris has taught me is that influence comes from sharing your story, building trust, and cultivating interest.
Chris taught me this not by actually saying any of it (although he probably has, because Chris has basically at one point or another said all the words— kind of like, if you give enough monkeys enough typewriters and enough time, eventually they’ll stumble on a literary masterpiece… but seriously, most of Chris’s words are on purpose insightful, I believe)… nope. He taught me this by doing it. By letting me hang at his beach house for a week as crazy fascinating and ridiculously “California” people came and went to celebrate my husband’s birthday and smoke cigars and play in the sand. Then again when we went on a cruise with a bunch of WordPress folks that scared me (on account of coolness). Sometimes they talked shop, most of the time they laughed and told stories. Built trust, relationships… influence. More recently, Chris transitioned full time into the WordPress world. He’s no longer technically Seth’s boss, but it wasn’t really ever about being Seth’s boss. He and Seth had a relationship that really transcended work roles and that lives on, regardless of what company Chris calls home. And when Chris did join a new company, he did so with a big old sphere of influence spread out in every direction (because that’s what spheres do) and that meant sooooo much more than his new fancy job title, high up position, standing in the company.
Like I said, completely fascinating.
So yeah, being an influencer, that’s a pretty worthy goal. Not a weird one at all. Watching Chris do it was kind of spectacular. And I think building a solid sphere of influence is kind of my goal too. Not power or position. Not fame or fortune or money. Definitely not in the WordPress community (I mean, thank goodness for WordPress, allowing me to blog without understanding a dang thing about it, but therein lies the problem in that sphere, you know?) Not even an appearance on SNL. Rather, to have a sphere of influence because I shared my story, I built trust, and I cultivated interest.
Anyway, I’m off to SoCal… got to go pack a bag! Woot!
Sometimes, people bring tasty treats into the office. Always delicious, rarely healthy.
Healthy office snacks are for healthcare establishments that practice what they preach. Not mine.
Given that we’re all a bit isolated in our own offices and, dare I say, a bit self-conscious (or maybe I’m projecting?) it tends not to be terribly obvious who ate what exactly.
Not that it really matters.
Let me rephrase that.
Not that it really matter to everyone.
Almost every time, though, someone gets worked up that maybe the snacks are disappearing and that housekeeping (gasp!) is the one eating them.
How dare they?!
Well. Because. They’re snacks. For the office. And the housekeeping folks come around the office day after day, just like all the non-housekeeping folks do. So what if they ate the snacks? If they did, quite frankly, I hope they enjoyed it. Certainly not worth the upset. Right?
I’ve got five bird feeders hanging around my backyard. At our old place, it used to just be two. Those first two were so ridiculously excellent because the squirrels were always doing their best to get at the birdseed and it was a daily battle of Seth vs. the squirrels.
We inherited several more when we moved into our new place. It’s not new anymore, but I continue to fill the feeders and we’ve got a lovely crop of birds that come by, particularly in the summer, for a bite. My favorites are the mourning doves that lumber around under the feeders waiting for the little guys to knock seed down for them to eat. But they’re all lovely and chirpy.
Except not everyone agrees. When we had some people over this winter, I was admonished for using the cheapie seed blend — the one that’s always on sale at Fleet Farm. Apparently, it attracts garbage birds.
But then again, what makes a garbage bird so undesirable?
Apparently, they’re all brown. And they don’t belong here.
I’m ok with feeding the garbage birds. Even garbage birds need love. Love and a little bird seed.
Those first two stories are old stories. They’re things I think about relatively frequently though. Things that really rubbed me the wrong way. I knows it’s people and birds and not really the same thing, but in both cases, the situation, the prevailing attitude, just seemed unfair.
Why does it matter who ate the food???
And then I went to a really great Grand Rounds presentation the other day by Dr. Michael Harris from OHSU about his Novel Interventions in Children’s Healthcare, or NICH, program… and it tied it all together. The program was incredible, the talk was inspiring, I loved it, but that’s not what brought the point home for me in this context.
Rather, it was a relatively small, illustrative point that Dr. Harris used to describe how people, well, rats, actually, rise to the occassion based on the way they are treated. The way they are handled. The assumptions we make about exactly how far they can rise.
The premise was this: once upon a time, a researcher labeled a bunch of cages of rats either “maze poor” or “maze adept” … something along those lines, anyway. Then he had a research assistant run the rats through a maze and record their results. As expected, the “maze poor” rats did poorly and the “maze adept” rats did well. Except, and here’s the kicker, all the rats were standard lab rats. None were actually maze poor or adept, there was no difference between the two groups except in the way they were handled by the research assistant conducting the test.
Dr. Harris went on to explain basically that this is exactly the same thing that he sees happening in clinical care when you’re dealing with children that are both socioeconomically vulnerable and medically fragile. The way their parents get treated– either as deadbeat layabouts who neglect their children vs. parents who are trying to do the best they can with what they have — makes all the difference in health outcomes. Thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars of difference in healthcare costs, too. And that gets big attention.
Completely fascinating. It really made me think. Two things:
1) Maybe I should pick up and move to Oregon to work in the NICH program where my motto will become “Nothing I Can’t Handle” so that I can help kids and their parents when nobody else will.
But more realistically…
2) How often do I treat people like dumb rats?!
Ideally, we’d treat everyone like a smart rat. Like they are capable. Maze adept. Good enough to be good at anything you put in front of them. So, what about me? In my daily life, do I treat everyone like a smart rat?
Of course I do. I’m perfect.
Actually… sorry, I was thinking of somebody else.
I’m full up-to-here with prejudices and preconceived notions just like everybody else.
So I’ve got to try to be better. To live life a bit more blinded. Because maybe we’re all just basic, run of the mill rats, doing our own little rat things.
Not dumb rats. Just rats.
Not garbage birds. Just birds.
Not housekeeping people. Just people.
And the rat, the bird, the person… they’ll all respond appropriately to the treatment they’re given.
Birdseed for the “garbage birds” certainly results in gorgeous coos from the mourning doves outside our kitchen window. I see no problem there.
My sister-common-law (because my brother loves her and therefore, so do I, married or not) is in love with Jeff Goldblum. It’s cool to say that here because (1) it’s hilarious to me and (2) my brother is the one who told me about the celeb crush, so it’s not like it’s a secret or anything. Plus, I can totally get on board with the hotness of Jeff Goldblum– turns out, not only is he a fabulous actor in a million and one good movies, but he’s also a crazy amazing jazz piano player. Look it up. Good stuff.
One of my favorite Jeff Goldblum characters (besides the “must… go… faster!!!!” Dr. Ian Malcom in Jurassic Park) is Alistair Hennessey in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. He makes me laugh so hard… especially when he meet’s Cody, the dog, asks his name, and then instantly smacks him on the nose with a newspaper and says, super seriously, “Be still, Cody.” Even though Cody was already being totally still and well-behaved. It’s just so ridiculous.
And I thought about that two Fridays ago while I was home sick from work with a fever and ridiculous cough (I told you, Satan moved into my chest and was not about to leave) and spent the day watching Wes Anderson movies (!!) on the couch while texting my brother and sister. I thought about it because “Be still, Cody.” was going to be the name of my next blog post. My next someday blog post. Which ended up being a really long time away. Yet, here we are. Finally!
I really did get real sick. Don’t worry though, I say that with complete perspective realizing that it’s not like I was diagnosed with cancer or ebola or something real serious. I just mean that I got knocked on my butt by a nasty virus. For two solid weeks. Also by some opportunistic bacteria that took residence in my ears and caused a double ear infection on top of the viral crud. Any amount of walking (and I seriously mean any… like even walking-to-a-meeting-down-the-hall any) caused an unstoppable coughing jag, complete with gasping for breath and tears running down my cheeks and the whole nine yards, and it was two full weeks of that. I couldn’t do anything. I had to be still.
Don’t get me wrong, I totally love a little stillness in my life. I love to lounge around and read books without moving for long glorious periods of time. So long as it’s a choice, though. Because as the kitchen rapidly deteriorated and my diet of all cereal all the time became totally boring and the laundry piled up and Curly wasn’t getting walks and, and, and… the stillness got to be really out of control. But the fact of the matter is, I did not have a choice. So stillness it was. For two weeks. No cleaning, no blogging, no yard work, no cooking… just to and from work (also the urgent care), to and from bed (or the couch or the floor, I wasn’t picky for a minute there), to and from Walgreen’s (because I went through three boxes of Mucinex), and to and from coughing fits. Blech.
During the second week of my cold, Seth was in Miami. And as the dishes and laundry and cough drop wrappers piled up, I felt guiltier and guiltier. I really didn’t want him to come home to that mess. The evidence of my laziness.
Except, he told me on the phone, between coughing spells, that he really didn’t care. He was just glad to be coming home. To be with me and our pup. To sleep in his own bed (on which I promised to at the very least put new sheets). He really didn’t care. I was sick and I did what I had to do.
And what I had to do, for two weeks, was be still.
Like getting whacked on the nose with a newspaper, my cold made me practice some serious stillness. I did not love it.
Interestingly, at the same time I was coming down with this cold, I was also starting a local mindfulness class with my friend Emily. And although I missed a week (on account of the coughing), I am learning and thinking about how important some intentional stillness can be on a daily basis. There I am realizing just how hard true intentional stillness can really be. Different from the stillness associated with relaxing with a book on the couch, where my mind is anything but still. But true, mind, body, and soul stillness. If only I could have thought about that and given myself some of those blissful, yet challenging, minutes while I was sick.
For me, what it takes to be still is conditional. When I was sick, it was the cough initially, but ultimately the notion of just letting it going– recognizing my limitations, being patient with my lungs and my ears and my throat. In a moment of mindfulness, it’s a deep breath in and a deep breath out, sometimes a mantra (God is good… Always… Always… Always…). In moments of fury, it’s a relaxed conversation about something else that brings me to a place of good humor (that sentence is about this morning, 5 minutes chatting with Marie and I’m always better). Whatever the cue though, there is definitely something to be said for being still. Letting the rest go.
Even more to be said for not coughing. Thank goodness that’s over.