Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Long short hand

Word retrieval has never been my specialty. It's a complete mystery whether this fact is the cause or the result of my brain's tendency to conjure up stories or anecdotes in place of a more succinct "right word".

On any given day with me, you're likely to hear references to "saw sharpening", "emperor's clothes", or other common reference points. However, you're just as likely to hear me refer to a childhood memory, a line in a movie, or an obscure joke. Those of you who know me well have learned what most of these things mean. Maybe I should put a glossary together for the casual observer.

The thing is, I'm not sure my vocabulary is rich enough to capture certain feelings or observations on the fly. And, since I am a creature of habit and not the most original one at that, sometimes the same feelings or thoughts creep up over and over again. Top this with the common adage admonishing one from reinventing the wheel, and I think this approach to communication makes sense.

Of course I would think that. Sour grapes, anyone?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Your Time or your Life?

Recently, I saw a well dressed woman dart out onto the street and make a mad dash for a bus as it was shifting out of "park" and into "drive". She literally jumped in the way of rush hour traffic in her attempt to catch her ride.

I watch movies. It's possible that some stranger stole her baby and was using that particular bus as his getaway vehicle. Or that this woman has a violently abusive partner that would use her arriving late as an excuse to beat her mercilessly. Maybe she has children she is responsible for picking up at a day care at a specified time?

I also watch the people around me. It is just as likely that this woman was in such a rush to avoid having to wait for the next bus. Given the time of day, and the particular location, her wait would have likely have taken no more than 15 minutes.


Like most things, this has me thinking.

What is so terrible about waiting? Whatever your answer, is it so terrible that it would be worth playing the role of a flattened frog in your own version of frolic-in-traffic Frogger? Or worse yet, for folks who play a slightly modified version of the game from a driver's seat, would it be worth a charge or two of involuntary man-slaughter?

Along that same vein, if getting somewhere on-time is worth risking your life, wouldn't it also be worth packing the night before to make sure you are prepared in the morning, leaving home slightly unkempt if absolutely necessary, accounting for traffic delays when calculating your appropriate departure time, or cutting off your boss and speaking up if she is keeping you at work a little too late?

Most of us remember how important our time is. I can't help but think that we often take the "being alive" part of it all for granted.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The way to a girl's heart

We were sitting on a bench in a Peruvian town square, people watching, when a young man approached with eyebrows raised and his shoe-shine kit held up. My friend and I must have looked behind us to see who he was facing; I was wearing Tevas and my friend had on canvas sneakers.

It turns out, that in Peru, shoe-shine sales pitching has nothing to do with the need for or feasibility of a shoe shine. But, when it became clear that we were not buying, our entrepreneur changed his approach. He motioned for his wing man to join him and shifted from trying to score a couple of customers to trying to score a couple of dates.

Both young men did what they could to engage us in conversation and we were entertained by the small talk. Based on overall attentiveness, tone of voice, and the hopeful expressions on each guy's face, I am certain no ill was meant by one particular attempt at connection:
"You two like to eat alot, huh?"
My friend and I immediately broke into laughter and went on to explain that the way to an American girl's heart is not through pointing out her stomach. "But yes", we admitted, "the answer is yes."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A litter bit at a time

Last year, Christian and I flew down to Missouri to campaign on behalf of our candidate of choice. From the woman who generously hosted us, to the people we worked alongside and the voters we visited, the experience was great. And I left with many fond and interesting memories...


Early on, I was partnered with an elderly woman from a neighborhood we were canvassing. She was a trip -- I enjoyed watching her utilize her matriarchal powers of influence.
"Young man, you tuck in your shirt. Now!"
"Boys! Stop making such a ruckus"
"Of course you are going to vote!"
In the presence of this itty-bitty, bi-focal bespectacled broad, intimidating-looking men became sheepish, eyes-lowered, yes ma'am gentlemen.

On our way back to the office after completing our rounds, she apologetically pulled out a bag of her small fast-food lunch and asked if I minded her eating en route. Of course I didn't mind.

That is, until once she was done eating, she crumbled up the bag and handed it to me.
"Open up your window, hon."
What?! I can't even imagine how confused I must have looked. Though she was explaining herself clearly enough, it took me a while to understand what she was asking of me.
"Just toss it out the window, dear."
It's hard to describe, but my response to this request was visceral.


I grew up during a time of "Don't Be a Litter Bug" public service ad campaigns! More importantly, I was raised by parents that specifically taught me that littering is rude and irresponsible. At football stadiums, in movie theaters, on deserted roads my behavior is consistent -- if there is no place to toss my trash, I carry it with me until I find a trashcan.

Years ago, I noticed that a little girl who was walking ahead of me with her mother took out a piece of candy, unwrapped it, and threw the wrapper on the sidewalk. Maybe her mother hadn't noticed? I racked my brain for some polite way to approach this. I was pretty sure that if I said something to her mother, no matter what tone I used, it would come across as rude or sarcastic. So, I called out to the little girl in as small and as sweet a voice as I could manage. "Excuse me, I think you dropped something." The little girl turned to me, then looked up at her mother who motioned for her to pick up her trash.

Sometimes I fantasize about creating a new anti-littering public service ad campaign.


Without out rightly saying no, I suggested that I hold the crumpled bag on my lap until we got into the office. "I can throw it away for you there," I offered.

She let me know how silly I was being and the knot in my stomach tightened a bit. I told her about a phenomena one of my professors used to site about machine shops -- if the machine shop was kept clean and orderly, there were fewer accidents. This same professor had also sworn that, when he and his wife had contractors working on his house, the act of cleaning up every evening led to better quality work the next day.
"People are paid to clean the streets. It's okay, really!"
I asked her how often the streets were cleaned and how long she thought her bag of trash would lie around before getting picked up. I believe that if a person sees trash scattered all over a place, they are more likely to treat that place like a trashcan. It was clear she was not going to align with my way of thinking, so I tried another (truthful) angle. "This goes against what my father taught me. If he were to see me tossing this bag out that window, he would be ashamed."

With a head shake, a "suit yourself" and "silly girl" she let me be.

Litter Attracts LitterThe closest parking spot we could find near the office turned out to be right next to an alley that was scattered with trash. (The picture to the right is a close approximation of how bad it looked.) My driver noticed just as we were getting out of her car and seemed shaken by the sight. She immediately began to apologize.

"... there I was, trying to get you to do what your daddy taught you not to!"

And then she thanked me.

I'm not sure if or when I'll manage to put together a public service ad campaign. But, for now, I know that at least one person (and perhaps her children and grandchildren) will be less likely to litter as a result of her time with me. And that's something. Because every litter bit counts.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Check in #2 -- Whose world is it?

(Note, this is a check in for the whose world is it challenge)

To quickly sum up the last few days -- I would tally up my score on Tuesday with "Honorable Mention". Though it's a bit of a blur now, I'm quite confident that all of Wednesday and most of Thursday would have earned me one of those awards you get when the contest you have entered is determined to give everyone a prize (e.g. "Also Ran").

Luckily, by Thursday evening I started well on my way to "Shows Improvement" and who knows, by the end of my parents' trip I'm sure I'll be somewhere along a B+ or an A. Of course, right now it's easy. The whole point is to be able to behave this way when it's *not* easy.

For those of you who like details:
Monday night we agreed to get an early start on Tuesday morning. However, at some point before hitting the sack (unbeknown to me) Christian decided we should sleep in since we had to wake up early on Wednesday and Thursday. Alarms were reset...
Tuesday saw us to bed at around 4 in the morning. This was not either of our preference, but we wanted to get in all the coats of priming required to be in a position to paint on Wednesday. I might have forgotten to mention, but Christian had forgotten to mention that he had a presentation to put together for Wednesday.
As it got later and later, and I got more and more tired, I grew more and more annoyed with my partner. But you know, I could have gotten started with work as soon as I had woken up instead of waiting for a second pair of hands. Plus there are plenty of things I could have gotten started with weeks ago. And, even if we had gotten an early start, it's possible we still would have been up just as late. (Have you ever noticed that sometimes, when you have a big job to do, it magically expands to fill up all the time that you give it?)
After some (much) grumpiness and grumbling on my part, I did manage to reign myself in and remember Christian's world. I offered to finish up his remaining tasks in the apartment to give him extra time to prepare his presentation.

On Wednesday, Christian comforted me with "you shouldn't be so hard on yourself. We're tired, we've got a deadline on our heads, and we've got tough work on our hands." Isn't that someone you would want to be a better person for?

Thursday was especially stressful for me. As we neared the time that we had to leave the house, Christian was frantically finishing up. He was being helpful! And I wasn't able to express clearly enough that my priority was to be at the airport on time over a little bit of disorganization remaining. I could not be late to pick up my parents!

Sometimes, getting someone out of the house before they are well and ready is like herding cats. By the time we were on our way, I knew we would be late. As I drove, and this realization sunk in more deeply, I could not contain myself -- I burst into tears. The thought of being late to pick up my parents seemed so absolutely disrespectful, so thoroughly ungrateful, that it just ripped me up inside.

When I came to the passenger pick up section, Christian jumped out of the car and ran to find my parents. I saw him greet my mom and dad, take one of their bags, point them in my direction, and head back running. My mom's condition makes for slow walking progress, and Christian didn't want that to delay me my first hello. "I'll stay with the car -- run over right now and give them a hug!"


The last couple of days have been blissfully relaxing. It's easier, in these conditions, to be more magnanimous. I'm not going to completely discount any good grades I may earn during this period, though. I have to believe that exercising this muscle under low stress and succeeding as well as under high stress and failing will eventually strengthen my ability overall...

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Check in #1 -- Whose world is it?

(Note, this is a check in for the whose world is it challenge)

Yesterday was a 12-hour, physical labor workday. Yes, I took breaks here and there and no, the type of labor I was doing was *nothing* compared to what some folks do for a living. But let's just say that, for me, the work was tiring and today I am tired, achy, and not at all looking forward to round two (coming up in a few minutes).

I didn't interact with many people yesterday, yet I somehow managed to trip up considerably on day #1 of my challenge. Yikes! Don't get me wrong, I did have some moments of remembering and executing my mission. However, most of those moments were when I was alone and there was nothing happening to test my resolve.

I started off well enough, waking up before my schedule required to make breakfast for Christian. After he left the house, I gave myself an hour of Elsa time and then got down to business. While I was working, I imagined how psyched Christian would be about all the progress I made while he was gone. I found and laid out all the necessary tools, affixed a small section of drywall, spackled, sanded, and primed primed primed.

That's kind of sweet, right?

But when Christian called to check in, a simple question he asked gave me the impression that he felt I wasn't making quick enough progress. I felt taken for granted. Even worse, I reacted to that feeling in what I am sure was not a very Toscanini's behind-the-counter-guy kind of way.

To begin with, I know that Christian's time estimates for himself are usually over-optimistic. It would stand to reason then, that his time estimates for other people would carry with it this same characteristic. He meant no harm by it and in fact, I am confident his question was geared toward helping me remove any obstacles that may have been hindering my (hyper-speed) progress. But, more importantly, it should not have mattered whether or not he appreciated how hard (or fast) I was working since my intention for that day was for my work to be a gift to him.

My grade so far is a D at best. Good thing that today is a new day and I get a chance to try again.

Wish me luck!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Whose world is it?

Planet EarthA few months ago, while participating in a MassMouth event at Toscanini's, I made my way over to the counter and took a look at the assortment of flavors. I asked the guy behind the counter some "can I ...?" kind of question and was met with a shrug and the following response:

Hey, it's your world. I'm just living in it.

I was tickled by this. Here was this laid-back, hipster looking fellow whose entire disposition seemed to nonchalantly state "I see no reason why I shouldn't do whatever I can to make you happy."

I think about this now and again. Although I technically know that I am not the only "center of the universe" flitting about out in the world, sometimes I forget. And there is a guy behind a counter who makes a point of remembering.

I'm feeling inspired. For some time now, I've been considering publishing some sort of personal challenge that will require that I think or behave differently than I normally do. So here we go.

This week, I will be the Toscanini's behind-the-counter guy. In other words, I want to set aside my ego enough to play the helpful, accomodating, and pleasant "extra" in everybody elses' movies. For accountability, I will make a point of posting how things go -- check back to see the ways in which I do well, the ways in which I fall short, and what I learn in the process.

Wish me luck!


Related Posts with Thumbnails
Who Elsa? by Elsa Zuniga is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.whoelsa.com.