The first day of this new year finds me in a thoughtful place and I know I’m hardly alone here. I think the end of 2020 and the new year 2021 has found a lot of us in in a thoughtful place and full of rumination.
It would be easy to look on 2020 as a mulligan. A do-over. A throw-that-in-the-bin and never think about it again kind of thing. Take it out with the trash.
But to do so would be a mistake. 2020 was a lesson. A mentor. A cruel but perhaps necessary education.
The past several days has me thinking about teachers and mentors who impacted me and more specifically, impacted my art. About how many of them are not in my life anymore, for various reasons. And how much I yearn to find replacements, how hard I seek the wise advice of those who know so much more than I do.
In fact, getting a mentor’s view on the lessons and tragedies of the previous year is exactly what I seek.
To my great sadness, in November within the span of forty-eight hours I lost two of the most influential women in my life. I find myself on day one of 2021 still reeling from their loss and scared to face the road ahead without their wise guidance.
On November 6th, my dear mother-in-law who was more like a friend and one of the strongest working artists I know, passed gently at home with her beloved son by her side.
On November 8th, my photography teacher and dear friend passed peacefully at home under the loving care of her wife of 22 years.
These double blows were hard to take. I even wondered at the time if I could sustain the loss.
In a text to my best friend, I told her that the grief was stacking up and I had no idea where to put it all. Could I build metaphorical shelves to store the pain? Maybe rent a unit where I could put all of this sorrow and then sort through it on the weekends?
No, there are no metal shelves and no locked doors to store the grief. Turns out I have to carry it with me. At times the load bends my back into a question mark. At other times I carry it almost (but not quite) lightly.
I can forget about it for a moment and think I am through and then a smell or a sound or a visual will bring it all right back with weight and ferocity and my back bends further. Bend but not break is the theme, or at least the hope.
I have questions. I have thoughts. I have worries. I have wonders. I am working on a big project, a goal I set for myself and it is a big goal and oh how I wish I could talk to both of these powerful, creative, and smart women to get my head on straight about it.
One would make me a cup of coffee and listen to my thoughts and fears and tell me that she understands and how hard it can be, but that continuing to work, that doing the work, is what matters.
One would make me a cup of twig tea and then verbally shove me around a little in the most beautiful and caring way, telling me to forget what anyone else or the voices in my head say, to just keep making art. Because making art is necessary in this world. Not a nice to have, but mandatory.
And then dazed and thoughtful after each of their wise counsel, I would go back out there into this mad world and I would keep making art. Putting word to page, and paint to paper, and images through a lens.
Because the road to making art is a long road, the journey beautiful and painful and frustrating and worth it. One must walk through low valleys of making really bad art and occasionally look up to find you have arrived at the peak of a beautiful hill. That something you made is actually not that bad and might actually be very good.
From that view atop the hill you can see more hills, steeper and more meaningful and you must, have to, can’t stop now, start moving towards them. Sights recalibrated, on you must go. To keep walking is what matters. To keep walking is necessary.
Even though I miss them both so much perhaps I can find them, then, in just continuing to do the work I set out for myself. And when in doubt, I make myself a cup of coffee or a cup of twig tea and sip and pause and listen and then…get back to work.
To find an image to accompany these words, I went to Unsplash with their thousands of free images, and searched with the word “mentor.” My eyes landed on the image found at the top of this piece. I loved the color and the visual and the feel of the photo. “But that isn’t about being a mentor,” I thought. And then realized I was wrong.
The dandelion with its many seeds waiting for a gust of wind to carry them off is actually perfect. Exactly the image I needed to see. Writing this out, saying these words helps me carry my grief a little bit lighter today.
I cast my own seeds of creativity to the wind. I can’t wait to see where they land.
This post is dedicated to the beautiful art and spirit of both Jamie Dedes and Marty Rose Springer and the impact they had on my life. I am forever in their debt.
This crazy ol’ 2020 has been weird in a lot of ways. I think we are all getting used to a “new normal,” whatever that means.
During this time of shelter in place a lot of things have changed. Our old routines may be out of whack. How we go about the day is certainly different.
But these crazy days also have a lot of us searching for comfort in the same routines, if they are possible to keep. “Trying to normalize,” is what I keep saying. What did I do before? How did that go? Can do I that now and will it help me to feel normal during a time that is anything but?
One thing I have kept up with is my submissions of short stories. I have been doing my best to keep my work out there for well over a decade, and I didn’t want to let that drop right now. Even as most days I just want to slouch in a big chair and forget about the world outside.
I have found that being creative is very hard for me right now, too many things are occupying my mind. Working on getting submissions of work already complete out to the world is a normalizing process these days.
Despite my keeping the submission train running on time, 2020 has been a bit of a dry spell for acceptances. I had a lovely story published for Valentine’s Day in February (which had been accepted in December) and then the well dried right up after that.
Part of working to be published is knowing that these dry spells happen. They are normal and to be expected, and possibly a little more expected during this time of pandemic as we all figure things out.
So it was with great joy that in mid-September I opened an email from the editors at Bindweed Magazine with an acceptance. Whew! Feels good, you know? I get hundreds of emails with a no, so that yes every once is a while is tonic to a hardworking writer’s soul.
I’m now pleased to share my story “Possibilities. And Turtles.” with you. If you have a moment to give it a read, I would greatly appreciate it. And stay a while over there at Bindweed, there are some beautiful works to find in their pages.
Now more than ever, supporting the arts and artists matters, so I thank you in advance for the read.
Now if you’ll pardon me, I need to go do a whoop and a little click of the heels, then get back to the business of submitting my stories.
This little bit of goofiness was written in response to a satire writing contest and I must have been in some sort of weird state of mind. I had a lot of fun writing it. My story didn’t go anywhere in the contest, but it found a home on Medium and I wanted to share it here.
After working four years and six months at my Angel Investor-backed, cash-infused, market-disrupting employer, I finally qualified for benefits. Whew! I know, I know. As far as unpaid internships go, that was on the short side.
After unironically eating too many Flintstone gummy vitamins from the company breakroom, my back tooth started to ache, so I found a company plan-approved dentist in the rapidly gentrifying part of town.
Okay, it was the only approved dentist, but no matter. I have insurance!
Well, color me delighted when I arrived at Dr. Ethan’s one-room office in the backroom of a nail salon and was greeted by the sight of so many archaic dental implements scattered about. What a collection!
Never in my wildest dreams did I think he’d actually use the hand drill on me. But he did. Without novocaine.
An illustration of dental keys for tooth extraction from Savigny’s catalog of surgery implements, circa 1798, and found here
I guess the screaming upset the mani-pedi customers, so Dr Ethan handed me a half-empty fifth of gin and an old Iomega at Comdex giveaway stress ball to squeeze. It was all very Old West and I feel honored to be a part of the vintage dental ways.
I can’t believe people actually lived through this! I bet my brother — the one with good job — has never experienced anything so cool.
After the rotten roots were properly canal’ed, Dr Ethan offered me a wide range of replacement teeth in many colors, none of them white and porcelain.
Oh, I could have chosen a gold tooth (not covered by insurance), an amalgam of something toxic and something radioactive (also not covered by insurance), or a nice assortment of wooden teeth.
I don’t know if it was the gin or the blood loss, but I was pleased to have the chance to choose between a knotty pine, a beautiful mahogany, or a nice hard teak.
Well, I chose mahogany that day and haven’t looked back. Sure, the varnish is seeping into my salivary glands and small splinters of tooth fly off when I eat oatmeal, but I am now the coolest, most throwback guy in the office. I can hardly wait for the next tooth to rot out of my head! And for this infection to go away.
The only downside: My urge to chop down cherry trees has never been stronger.
Several years ago, my husband and I had some friends who were members of one of the Yacht Clubs in San Francisco. We would occasionally join the couple for dinner after a day of sailing.
The views were fantastic, the bartenders gave a deep pour, and the food was good (but not great).
San Francisco is well known for its more liberal political leanings, but the yacht clubs are where the more conservative (i.e. wealthy) can be found in the notorious hippie city. The rules of the yacht club dictated that we had to mind our p’s and q’s while there.
On one memorable night after a hearty dinner, the four of us retired to the bar with drinks in hand and began a rousing and competitive game of liar’s dice.
Just as things really got rolling, as it were, an Admiral of the club who was a huffing old man with a bulbous nose blooming with red capillaries, bustled over to us. He leaned over the bar and blurted, “Ladies do NOT throw dice in bars!”
Remember when you were a kid riding in the front seat of the car? And that moment when your mom would hit the brakes and throw out that strong mom arm to protectively keep you from flying through the windshield?
That is roughly the approach my husband took to keep me from getting very unladylike in a real hurry.
After the adrenaline dissipated and another drink was poured, I remember thinking how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.
The George Moro Dancers at El Rancho Vegas, 1949 — Photo by Don English, photo courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau
These days I’m a lot older and a lot less inclined to take any guff off of anyone, particularly a stuffy old rich man. But this concept of “being a lady” and acting ladylike is still something I think about. In fact, as I age, it’s on my mind more than ever.
My parents grew up during the Great Depression and had me late in life so I ended up with a more old fashioned set of values than many of my peers in school. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, women weren’t having kids into their late thirties, so my parents were a generation older than my friend’s parents.
Where they had cool bell bottom pant wearing moms and sideburn wearing dads who were easy, open, and permissive, my folks were stodgy and carried a depression-era sensibility about almost everything, including but not limited to: money, discipline, and politics.
But to their credit, where many of my female friends grew up with their parents saying, “When you grow up and get married…” mine were saying, “When you grow up and graduate from college…”
Pretty forward thinking for my ultra conservative folks.
So I followed their advice, went to college, got a post graduate degree and these days I work in operations to support scientists, including both physicists and engineers. While the percentage of women in the various STEM fields is still small, it is certainly growing. I am lucky to work with a lot of strong women in non-traditionally female professions. This has me thinking more and more about what it means to be a lady.
If clothes make the man, does how a woman dresses define whether or not she is a lady? With each passing year, the dress code of employers becomes more casual. Both men and women can wear khakis and a button down, so maybe clothes are no longer a deciding factor.
Once the measure of being a lady was being demure, subservient, speaking in low and melodic tones. My mother’s 1950’s Better Homes and Gardens cookbook explains that my job as wife is to have the children clean and tidy for when my husband comes home. I should dress in a pleasing way and greet him at the door. That advice was prudent for the times, but is no longer the measure of what makes me, or anyone, a lady.
I’ve been noodling over writing this piece for a little over a month. I had started getting down the words when the Be a Lady They Said video went viral. I saw it posted on all of the social platforms. I didn’t want to seem like riding the coattails of that sentiment so I set this story aside. Perhaps I’m not the only one thinking on this topic.
This question of what it means to be a lady continues to rattle around in my brain so I dusted this story off and starting thinking about it again. As I enter the time of my life where I will no longer have the ability to bear children, an aspect some say defines the very nature of womanliness, I wonder who and what I am now that I am no longer young, with the power and energy that youth brings.
My face in the mirror is changing, my hair is rapidly turning gray, and what it means to be a lady, for myself anyway, is also changing.
So I haven’t yet answered the question of what it means to be a lady, and maybe I never will. Or maybe the answer is being a lady means whatever I want it to mean.
And for the record, ladies most certainly do throw dice in bars.
One of the benefits of my job is that I work from home one day a week, and have been doing so for just over seven years. It’s a wonderful perk. If I ever chose to move to a different job, I’d want to be sure I retained this same benefit as it goes a long way toward my mental health.
As a confirmed introvert, working from home on Friday allows me to get my job done while having a little break from my very extroverted team of peers (all of whom I adore, in measured doses).
So when word came down from my leadership that we are to work from home for the foreseeable future, I though “pfft, no problem, I’m already a pro at this.”
On Day One, I approached my now shelter-in-place working from home days exactly as I approached every work from home Friday, and that was my first mistake.
Since I believe in growing from my mistakes, here are five things I have learned and want to share from the first week of working from home every day:
#1 You must have boundaries
When working from home just one day a week, the boundaries between work life and home life were never an issue. I’d get up a little later than usual, make the short commute down the hall, and do my job. Since the end of Friday is also the end of the work week, at 5:00pm I’d log off and enjoy my weekend time.
Now that work from home is every day, it’s too easy at 9:45pm to think “oh, you know, I could just dash off that email to my boss that I forgot to do earlier” or when I’m obsessing over the current news at 3:30 in the morning, “I could take one more look at that PowerPoint draft.”
To be honest, it’s very likely that I have used “putting in extra work” as a way to deal with my anxiety over the current events. It feels like I am doing something about it, but I’m not. It’s an avoidance and over time will wear me out when right now I need to find ways to stay strong.
In short: Boundaries must exist between work life and home life.
#2 You must have boundaries
Since my husband is now my coworker five days a week, and since my husband is my absolute favorite person in the world, I find myself wanting to spend time with him as we usually do after work or on the weekends.
This means sitting together, drinking coffee, talking over all the things on our minds, including but not limited to: how cute our cat is, our thoughts on movie, television, or literary characters, what to have for dinner, and most importantly whether or not feeding peanuts to the crows and bluejays in the backyard will cause them to protect us, as a fierce corvid army, when the zombies rise…you know, normal couple stuff.
But if we spend too much time in our usual weekend pattern, then I am not getting work done. Then again, if I spend too much time doing work (see #1 above) then I’m not spending needed time with my husband.
Once again: Boundaries must exist between work life and home life.
As part of my job I support a team of technical people who are dispersed across the country, so I am very used to using video conferencing daily, whether at home or not. When this new stay at home edict came down, I was already set up on the app, had a good camera to use, and a speaker for sound.
Not so for my peers. For the most part using videoconferencing is new for them, and I find myself giving mini tutorials on every meeting we have.
Our IT department is now conducting four one-hour long trainings a day on how to use the videoconferencing service, but my peers seem loathe to take a course. “Too busy,” they say. So instead they are relying on me to help them. In every meeting.
This is not sustainable. I love to help people but I can’t get sucked into this vortex. Instead of jumping in there when they have troubles, am now sitting on my hands when someone says, “I can’t figure out how to share this document” or “Why can’t I see everyone?”
If they ask me directly, I will help, but if they are just muttering and fumbling I stay quiet because the best way to learn is to do it for yourself. The user interface isn’t really that hard, it just takes a little time to get comfortable with it.
The one exception: The times when a participant has both their phone and laptop dialed in which produces that horrible ping back and forth that escalates into a high teeth grinding sound. The audio equivalent of standing between two mirrors. I cannot restrain myself from jumping in to sternly say “Phone or Laptop, not both, mute one!”
At any break at work, I find myself looking at the latest headlines. On every call my peers want to talk about the headlines. In the kitchen while making lunch my husband and I talk about the latest headlines, “So, did you hear that…”
All of this fuels my anxiety and managing this is a big factor in my ability to stay safe and sane, and to be an active, productive employee.
Many years ago I took a meditation class and the instructor told us: “You don’t have to watch, read, or seek out the current headline news. If there is something you need to know, it will find you.”
It has been almost 20 years since I first heard this gentle guidance and it is more true today than it ever has been.
#5 You must have boundaries
On Friday work from home days, I tend to dress pretty comfortably. Yoga pants with a not terrible shirt. Fluffy socks and slippers. Loose but comfy (okay, ratty) sweater.
This is fine once a week, as Friday is the most causal day at work by far, but this is not sustainable for me five days a week. It is really true that clothes impact how you speak, how you hold yourself, how you feel. Clothes matter.
Now, I’m not saying put on a three piece suit and hard shoes every day, but at least wear the kind of “business casual” clothes you might wear to the office. Get up, take a shower, comb your hair, put on some work clothes, maybe light makeup if that’s your thing, and present yourself well. You’ll get your mind right to sit down and do some work.
Then when the work day is done, by all means, jettison yourself right back into those comfy home clothes. You’ve earned it.
We have no idea how long this current stay at home edict is going to last. so it is important to build good boundaries now to help stay sane over time.
And just because you work from home, don’t neglect washing your hands!