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Archive for November, 2010

Giving Thanks

OK: another story about the micro job. I’m beginning to think of it as confirmation of a line from one of Neil Finn’s songs: everything is good for you if it doesn’t kill you.

So I’m enjoying finding weird business names but the incessant chatter and chuckling continue. Then I find out that Ted, the adorable young man who’s sat next to me through this whole experience, has been accepted into the Air Force and is leaving in 3 days.

Ted is 25, extremely bright, well-read and open-minded. We talked a lot about books and especially movies. He was the one I mentioned in Dreaming and Scheming (7.25.10) who said the experience was Zen-like. His favorite in the weird names category on the Franchise Tax form: the title of Exalted Leader. Throughout the day Ted also listened to his I-Pod, read, and played on the internet. He was the fastest typist I’ve ever seen and would whip out dozens of forms at lightning speed so his “numbers were good.”

When he told me he was leaving I said, ‘Then I’ll leave, too.’ I couldn’t imagine being stuck there in complete isolation. Plus we only had 2 weeks left before the job ended.

I guess it was Loving Kindness who sent me the brainstorm of digging out my old Walk Man tape player. I know: Luddites Live. I don’t  have the right headphones to listen to cds on the computer or a portable cd player, much less an I-Pod. I do, however, have dozens of mixed tapes that I’d made in the days before we could burn cds. And the Walk Man still worked.

I grabbed a handful of tapes and went to work that Monday wondering if I’d be able to listen to them and still  concentrate on the data entry. I’m thrilled to say that the answer was yes. I popped in a tape and there was Richard Thompson, one of my all-time favorites. Not only that, but the tape had been made by my friend Bill, and I’d completely forgotten I had it.

Anyone watching me must have enjoyed the show. I was singing along silently, tapping my feet, nodding my head in time. (I have a great sense of rhythm and actually played percussion in a warm-up band for a BB King concert a hundred years ago.) I discovered old favorites and songs I didn’t remember hearing before.

When the chattering got louder, I just cranked up the volume. (One of my mixed tapes is called “Crank It Up” and starts with Lloyd Cole’s Half of Everything.) It was a total blast.

Earlier in my struggles with this job my alternate hand had asked, Can you make it fun? Now I wrote, ‘I’m so happy about the Walk Man and my old tapes. They’ve been a gift and have made the week without Ted, with Renfield et al going strong, much more pleasant.’

a gift you recognized immediately, AH responded. reminders of Bill and all the great music he introduced you to. follow instincts re sending him a thank you note… open mind and heart to possibilities. write more thank you notes. WRITE.

So I wrote a note to Bill, short and straight from the heart. You know how some things just feel absolutely right? That’s how this felt. At Thanksgiving, I made a batch of cards and wrote thank you notes in each. I keep thinking of other people to thank and I swear the whole experience has made me feel more expansive somehow. Quite a change from the hunkering down mindset. Quite a pleasant change.

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Walking History

During the micro job I became aware of a woman named Nell Hayes, the longest-serving state employee in the history of Texas. Nell worked at the Secretary of State’s office for 68 years. Yes, 68. When she’d worked there 65 years, they named a conference room after her. It just so happens that I did the data entry work a few yards from this conference room.

I saw the small photo plaque on the wall of the room and got interested. Then I opened a closet and found shelves of other plaques, photos, mementos, certificates… All celebrating Nell, who died at age 90 in 2007.

So I’ve been interviewing people who knew her, because there’s a story worth telling, here.  Everyone I’ve talked to smiles at the mention of her name and speaks warmly about her. A couple of them have cried softly, telling me they still miss her. They’ve given me newspaper articles and press releases which have served to make me even more curious.

By all accounts including her own, she didn’t want to stop working because she’d be lonely. So she dressed “to the nines” every day and continued. She was still working a month before she died.

Nell married twice and outlived both husbands. There’s a photo of her at age 21, when she won the Miss Stamford of 1939 contest. She was lovely. She still looked great 65 years later when they took the plaque photo. That’s her in the photo above. Of course they named her the Yellow Rose of Texas.

The hardest part of being a member of the working poor is never having enough time. Well, or money, a whole different can o’ worms. But Nell’s is a story worth telling. I’m adding it to the list.

*                       *                       *                       *                       *

Speaking of stories, I’ve posted Part 10 of Circuitous Route in Pages. I snuck Part 9 in a while back. Nearly there.

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Soldiering On

Paulina emigrated from Europe about 10 years ago and is the mother of a teenager. When she came for an alternate handwriting session, one of the first question she wrote was whether her father, who died many years ago, had loved her. She told me she was surprised by the response: that he had loved her in his way, but that first and foremost he was a soldier.

He was 18 at the start of World War II, she told me. He joined the army and was captured by the Russians. He was in a POW camp until long after most of the prisoners were released at the end of the war. He never talked about his experience, but he was “not right” afterward. There was no treatment for or even mention of the torments he suffered. He did what he did best, Paulina now understood. He soldiered on. “I’ve never thought of it that way before,” she said.

She was born years after her father’s return from the war and only knew him as someone distant and cold, often angry. He died when she herself was a teenager, and her son seems to be repeating her father’s behavior. He’s also angry and distant. He plays violent video games that greatly disturb his parents. They’ve tried to limit this with little success.

I asked her why her son was so angry and the story unfolded. Paulina had suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness for many years and hadn’t been a “good mother” when he was young. She’s sure that her son is bitter about that and she longs to make amends for it, but he won’t allow that kind of intimacy.

My dogs, who hate to miss meeting people and were sequestered in another room, made small sounds. As I started to apologize for them Paulina smiled.  She talked about her dogs and then mentioned that she has 21 chickens and even a goat. Her family tells her that she spends too much time and money on them. I suggested she write a question on whether that’s true.

No, her alternate hand responded. They bring you happiness and relief. Paulina started telling me all about her chickens, how they each have their own personality and how much fun it is to watch them. Her face lit up as she was talking. Before, she’d seemed sad and uncertain.

I told her it seemed to me that in her own way Paulina also soldiers on. She’s gotten her illness treated and recovered from a car wreck that temporarily injured her brain. She moved to a new country when her husband’s job required it. And since he won’t accept it, she shares the love she has for her son with the small animals that bring her joy.

I wondered if she seems distant and cold to her son, and she did, too. When I suggested that she continue writing about how to approach him while respecting his boundaries she nodded in agreement.

Patterns. AH is so powerful about revealing patterns, letting us see things we’ve “never thought of that way before.” I hear it from students and clients again and again, and see it in my own writing.

When your right brain points these patterns out to you through alternate handwriting, it does so in the most compassionate way imaginable. Never accusatory: always persistently gentle as it delivers incredible insights. To be received as the gifts they are.

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One of the nice things about my micro job, which ended yesterday, was that I was working right across the street from the majestic Texas state capital. The acres around it are a meticulously maintained park with lots of benches, where one can sit and do some alternate handwriting.

I did several writing sessions on those benches when the job was driving me particularly crazy. I was annoyed that I was having to spend 40 hours/week making a paltry salary doing mind-numbing work. The building was always freezing cold: people wore coats in the depths of the Texas summer. The topper, though, was a group of people seated across the large atrium where we worked. They talked loudly and frequently. I’ve never been able to block out background noise.

First I tried wearing ear plugs, but I could still hear them. Then I asked them to lower their voices. They looked at me blankly and resumed talking. I left a note with the supervisor: no luck.

One of the talkers was a woman who laughed incessantly. I know: laughing annoyed you? Yes it did. I called her ‘Renfield,’ after the crazy bug eater in Dracula. Heh-HEH-heh-heh-heh-heh. I mentioned her to a co-worker who replied, ‘Oh, you mean the chipmunk?’ A repetitive chuckle that was charming for about 3 minutes.

So here came a writing session:

Dominant Hand: What is it about the laughing woman that so annoys me? Am I jealous?

Alternate Hand: judgmental of rudeness… what choices do you have?

DH: I’ve been hoping I can be amused but that’s eluded me. I know it’s petty… Why does everything piss me off?

AH: lifetime of grievances. taking everything personally. ongoing journey towards equanimity. consider these roadblocks as road signs, ‘pointing’ out information for you to consider.

The subject switched to money, as it invariably does these days, and AH wrote, have been isolating self, feeling friendless. you’re not! how can you be of service?

When my dominant hand wrote a hesitant response, AH wrote, how about being of service to self? that would be a kindness. let yourself surrender to happiness. your happiness is a service to others. all happiness is, ‘cos uplifting.

To which my dominant hand shot back, Except for Renfield! She may be happy but she sounds maniacal. I was going along with you until we circled back to her!

Alternate Hand: how she sounds is Judge Betty’s take. don’t use JB (or Renfield) as road signs to happiness! back to roadblocks, but not circuitous. all part of journey.

Here’s something interesting: the micro job was verifying the names, addresses and titles of everyone registered as a business or nonprofit in Texas. When I got back to work after that writing session one of the first businesses that popped up was Rhodes Signs, LLC. I laughed out loud. Not maniacally, I hope, but definitely happily.

Milk & Cookies and Merrily the Cross-Eyed Bear soon followed. After that I started making a list of weird names. Fist of the Empire, LLC. M. Hastey Construction Co. White Knuckle Holdings Inc. Tennis Elbow Corp. The Reverend Plutarco Belanggoy. Tainted Properties. Gone to the Dogs, LLC. Cattleac, Inc. Flies Aren’t Us, Inc. I’m not making a single one of these up.

It’s so much better to be amused than annoyed. I’ve written about surrendering before (12.7.09). Surrendering to happiness is a pretty cool thing.

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