Book Snob vs Book Lover

Vivid_Sparkup_img1_lg._V339163125_This picture actually reminds me of myself as a kid. I used to come home from the library with stacks of books and my mother would ask me why I checked out that many as there was no way I could finish them all before they were due back. But I always did. I loved to read. I still do. That said, my tastes have changed pretty dramatically.

I can remember a time when I rented a wonderful movie for my mother while I was home visiting – something very serious and dramatic with amazing performances, I’m sure – and she told me she preferred Hallmark movies. Say what? I commented that they weren’t real life. Her response was that she’d had decades of “real life” and only wanted to be entertained. At the time, I didn’t understand that at all but now I do.

I’ve always aspired to be an author. What stops me? Well, that’s an entirely different blog post so let’s stick with my affinity for words and the way they’re put together. I recall writing a story in grade school and purposefully leaving it in my desk for the teacher to find as a way of getting feedback without asking for it. She returned it to me the next day and noted in the margin how impressed she was with my story and especially with my use of the word “albeit.” Lord knows where I’d stumbled across that word but I was determined to use it and glad she noticed.

I spent years reading literary novels and taking note of impressive sentence structure or evocative descriptions. I aspired to be those authors and the things I wrote were deplorable and contrived. I’ve probably started several novels over the years and eventually tossed them all in the trash. Fortunately, there was no computer tracking in those days so there’s no record of them.

I stubbornly ordered book after book of literary writing and turned my nose up at things like romance novels. And then one day I found myself throwing out a book that I had labored to finish. It might have wonderful reviews and a plethora of awards, but I found I couldn’t finish it. I read at night when I get into bed and I’d pick it up each night and spend precious time trying to figure out what I’d read the night before. Clearly, it wasn’t holding my fancy.

It took me another few years to slowly, ever so slowly, start buying books that sounded like they might have a plot that would hold my interest so I’d at least remember what was going on at the point I left off the night before. Could it be that I’m older and have less of an attention span? Yes. Could it be that I’ve become my mother and after decades of “real life,” I just want entertainment? Absolutely.

Please note: I still have no interest in romance novels but that may be more a product of being too damn old for romance than a dislike of the genre. Nowadays, I love mysteries and fiction that takes place in different time periods and/or other countries.

It’s interesting to see how my tastes have changed over the years and to wonder how much good entertainment I missed when I was younger.

 

 

 

Does Work Define Us?

Rock climber clinging to a cliff.

Work may not define us to our friends, but to work supervisors our work persona plays a pretty major role and so many of us spend decades toeing the line. I know we’d all like to think we don’t stereotype people and we work hard not to do so, but subconsciously, many of those ideas still lurk and they color our interactions with those around us.

Back in my dancing days, I worked in a fairly liberal atmosphere, one in which people were encouraged to be artistic and individual. That included the way we dressed, the things we’d do and say in public and even our hobbies. We didn’t care what anyone else thought, either.

But then I retired from dancing and spent several decades in the “normal” world and the old rules no longer applied. I found that I was expected to dress a certain way, talk a certain way and behave a certain way. I also felt like I put on a mask every morning and only partially removed it when I got home.

You can remove the mask in private and be whoever you are at heart – and that doesn’t even have to be too outlandish, mind you – but if you’re in public, even outside of work, you run the risk of someone, anyone, knowing one of your co-workers and reporting back on how “different” you were than what they thought. If that gets back to supervisors, you can bet that somewhere in the back of their minds they wonder if any of those traits will eventually carry over into work and it may influence the assignments you get, the people who interact with you, and the possibility of advancement.

So let’s take an example. Let’s say I get up every morning, put on the appropriate amount of makeup with a shade of lipstick that doesn’t scream “hooker,” accessorize sparingly, make sure I’m wearing the right length dress or skirt (nothing too short or tight), spray my hair to within an inch of its life so it stays “just so” and make sure I don’t offer contradictory opinions (always look like a team player), walk like a newly starched shirt, and sit “like a lady” – not exactly sure what that means but certainly know what it’s not, and it’s not my favorite cross-legged on the floor position.

But then someone sees me at a concert in ripped jeans, low-cut shirt, purple hair, a nose ring and a beer in my hands. Don’t think for a second that that’s not going to make the rounds at work. It may not even be malicious. It’s just a different “you” from what people are accustomed to seeing. So what happens next time someone says, “Let’s put Lisa in charge of the new project with Mr. Smith.” Without even thinking, that supervisor may say, “You know, I think maybe we need someone a little more conservative to work with Mr. Smith.”

Now clearly that’s not me (maybe only because I don’t drink), but perceptions can color your career, so you find yourself conforming as much as you can for as long as you can. That’s why I say that work defines us. We spend so much of our time in a work environment that we spend years acting as one person when our heart is another.

What would I change? At this point nothing because I’m too old, but if I had the balls, I’d live every day at work in my sweats and sneakers, I’d speak up every time I had something to say or wanted to point out the things that upper management does that piss off the “little people” like me (and that might be fairly often and really obnoxious) and I might even dance down the hallway from time to time. Good thing I’m close to retirement because my job would be over, I’d be out the door and I probably wouldn’t be able to find a new one.

The bottom line? Yes, my job defines me.

But not for long.

Science Fiction Escapes Me

Must be my age. For the most part I can’t get into science fiction. I’m old-fashioned enough that I love to watch the development of a multi-faceted character or be surprised by believable twists and turns in a superior plot. So for me, most science fiction just doesn’t cut it. I find myself trying to believe in a universe with bizarre characters that seem to act pretty human. That in itself is unbelievable. And if that’s the case, why not make a movie with humans and focus on the story rather than try to dress it up to make it interesting? Do you need something outrageous in order to hold the audience’s attention? Maybe so. Maybe we’re back to the generational differences and what we were raised with.

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I have no idea who the character in that photo is supposed to be or even if it possessed human-like characteristics; I’m just using it as an example. But if I went to a movie where this animal saved the world from destruction and rescued the leading lady, I’d come out of the theatre feeling like I’d wasted my money.

I haven’t seen “The Shape of Water” and I know it’s supposed to be a beautiful movie, but I will probably never see it because the idea of someone falling in love with an aquatic creature is ever so slightly incredible. If the idea is to tell a great love story about two misfits in the world, then I ask again, why can’t that be done with regular characters and a damn good plot?

I remember a boyfriend I had in college taking me to see the first “Star Wars.” I’ve never seen another one. Of course, we were on the verge of breaking up so anything he liked, I didn’t, but putting that aside, he thought the movie was the best thing to come out since sliced bread. I thought it was cowboys and Indians in space and totally unbelievable. You knew from the very beginning how the story would end and that nothing would be very surprising.

Having said all that, I loved ET. Go figure.

et

I never got into science fiction novels either. I had a cousin who once sent me a box of science fiction books and after slogging my way through a couple of them, I ended up tossing them out because I couldn’t force myself to finish them. I guess it boils down to personal preference and is just another illustration of how different we all are. For those of you who love the genre, I say, “Go for it.” I’ll stick with mystery and fiction.

 

Then … and Now

Back in my dancing days, I had several opportunities to meet some pretty big stars. I was exhilarated, thrilled that a small-town Texas girl could be in a position to meet famous people and, of course, I wanted a photo with every one of them to commemorate the moment. I’m glad I did because looking at me now, you’d never suspect that show business side of me and it makes for wonderful conversation.

One of my photos, taken backstage at “Casino de Paris” in Las Vegas, is probably my favorite. It was during the show that we all noticed Cary Grant sitting in the King’s Row booth center stage. I was told he held stock in the hotel and was a friend of our comedian and frequently showed up but it was the first time I’d seen him in the audience.

After the show, word spread fast that he was backstage and in our comedian’s dressing room. Everyone dawdled, wasting time that would normally see us racing to the coffee shop for a bite to eat. Someone even called the camera girl to come backstage so those who were lucky enough to be there when he came out could perhaps persuade him to take a photo or two. Finally, I was dared (and of course took it) to knock on the dressing room door and ask if a few of us could get a picture.┬áHe couldn’t have been kinder. When he came out, cast members lined up for a photo and he stood there and humored each and every one of us.

Cary Grant

Think the story stops there? Of course not. A little over a dozen years later, I had retired from dancing and was working in a law firm. I wanted to put at least one something in the office that would remind me of the career I’d had for 13 years that had provided me with tons of great memories and dozens of great stories. I chose to frame my photo with Cary Grant and put it on the bookshelf across from my desk.

How ironic that when I put something up to make me think I wasn’t the has-been I sometimes felt like, a younger co-worker walked in one day, examined the photo carefully, then turned to me and said, “Very nice. Is that your boyfriend?” Incredulous, I said, “Cary Grant?” She shook her head with incomprehension and asked me if he was famous. I mentioned several movies – North by Northwest, To Catch a Thief, Charade, Houseboat, Father Goose – and to my utter amazement, she didn’t know any of them.

Nothing like a younger generation to put things in perspective, is it?

Life Well Lived

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I find there’s a micro and a macro way of looking at my time on this earth and it’s only when I get wrapped up in the micro that I miss that macro “big picture,” where I fit in, and what it all ultimately means. Oddly, I find that my age has influenced that as well. When I was younger, it was much harder to pull myself back from the micro life of endlessly chasing ways to make more money, more money, more money…

I have never had a lot of money but it’s only recently that I’ve slowed down enough to reevaluate my life, take a look at where I’ve been and what mattered then, and where I am now and what matters now. I wish I’d been able to do this sooner because the balance has shifted. Maybe I needed the youthful experiences and the passing of time to see the patterns. The pattern was that I would spend 80% of my time trying to come up with ways to make more money and about 20% of my time enjoying what I had and the outer things that touched my soul in ways tangible things did not. Somewhere along the line, I realized I had it backwards.

It doesn’t hurt that I work with hospice patients who teach me every day that having enough money for “things” isn’t (or shouldn’t) be the goal. I believe the saying goes, “You can’t take it with you?” It’s a very simple, overused saying with mammoth meaning. Sort of like living a more authentic life and noticing the little things around you that actually have meaning. In the end, we’ll all be reduced to the images and memories that reside in the mind and the Louis Vuitton bag or the botoxed lips or the million dollar house won’t have an ounce of meaning. The things I hear hospice patients request are family members, friends, sunshine, fresh air, open blinds so they can see the sun rise, etc.

We do a disservice to our time on this planet when we try to separate ourselves from our own organic nature – when we think we’re above the plants and animals around us and that we operate on a different level because we possess bigger brains. I’m not so sure we’ve used them wisely, are you? The organic world has much to teach us when we stop and connect. But it definitely requires us to stop. And then connect.

Here’s a good, recent example of what I’m trying to say. How many times have you heard, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you” when referring to the recent mass shooting? Several? Dozens? How many of those people would you guess took the time to connect with the feeling of what really happened and what really matters in those final moments? You have to put yourself in someone else’s place, mentally and emotionally, and feel what it must be like to have a teenage child die for no damn reason at all. You must be able to feel the anguish in your heart, not from a once-removed superficial place of observing strangers living lifestyles different from yours (which makes it easy to put a little distance between their reality and your own), but from the gut-wrenching depths of your heart as it would feel if it were your child or your spouse. Only then does “Our thoughts and prayers are with you” resonate with the survivors. Oh, they appreciate your words, I’m sure. But I’m also sure they’re aware that they’re words and that if you were in a position to do something about it, you would if you really felt the horror. You wouldn’t allow it to keep happening.

Ultimately, what I’m trying to say is that if you don’t feel the life around you, you miss the life around you.

I know a woman who prided herself on how much money she had and the “things” she bought to decorate her home. Although she would verbally say things like, “I’m not rich” and “Money isn’t everything,” her actions spoke louder than words about how she believed her money gave her clout and bought her attention (I purposely didn’t use the word “love” because it certainly didn’t buy her that commodity). Now, she sits in a nursing home, entertains few visitors and laments over and over, “I used to be somebody.” Doesn’t imply a life well lived, does it?

My life well lived will be the one where I’m more able to fully connect on all levels – mental, emotional and spiritual – with the life around me. I have macro moments that stand out for me: sitting alone on my hotel balcony overlooking a Costa Rican rain forest, watching and listening as it rained, taking in the breathtaking beauty of this quiet communion; telling an unresponsive elderly woman I’d be back to sit with her so she wouldn’t die alone and when I got there, she took her last breath and died; laughing until my sides hurt at the antics of two cats playing with a new toy.

These are things that matter: I’ve felt deep emotions; I’ve loved; I’ve appreciated my place as a sentient “being” in the bigger scheme of things.

 

The Right Age to Die

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I figure this is probably me one day, fighting off death. I hope I have the energy for that.

So here’s the deal: I work in hospice. I’m not sure if those of us who spend years working with the dying just get used to death and think everyone else must feel the same way or if we jump to conclusions that are perhaps inaccurate.

One is when I hear a doctor talk about how he would counsel an elderly patient that his symptoms were not going to improve, he had no quality of life left and he’d had a nice, long life so perhaps it was time to take a stronger medication that would take care of his pain but would also make him groggy. He could then just die peacefully rather than stay wide awake and painful. I understand that from a medical point of view but I also think there’s a lot more going on with an individual than the physical. Being old and uncomfortable doesn’t necessarily mean he’s ready to die. There’s also the emotional and the spiritual to work into that equation and I often think they carry more weight than the physical concerns.

We spend our entire lives encouraging people to never give up; to fight, fight, fight; to believe in miracles; to try something new if the first thing doesn’t work; etc. At what point should that elderly person toss out everything he’s spent his life doing and quit? Why is it unreasonable to assume that someone might want to live a little longer, even if it’s a few days?

And then there’s the family. I’ve also heard things like, “She’s 90 years old. It’s time to let her go.” I can only assume these comments are a result of working with so many frail and suffering people for years and years. I understand that the goal is to make sure the patient is not in pain but what if that person prefers pain to death? And I don’t think family members pay any attention to the person’s age as an indicator of it being time to let them go. Loss is loss, regardless of the age, and it’s hard to let go. I’m pretty sure no one thinks, “Oh right. Ninety-one. Time to go Grandma!” Given a choice, I’ll bet they’d opt for 92 or, better yet, 110 if they could.

Or maybe the issue is me and no one else finds those comments bothersome at all. I haven’t arrived at a point where I think I’ll be okay when my time comes and so I can’t fathom being told it’s time to stop trying to live. I have tons of things I still want to see and do and hear and feel and I can’t imagine not being me any more, not having a consciousness. I realize that if I go to sleep and never wake up, I’ll never know the difference but making a conscious decision to do that is scary. What if I’ve given up and maybe I could’ve had one more conversation with my brother or laughed with a friend or spent a little more time coming to terms with the fact that the gig is up?

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that when you have a terminal disease, you’re going to die and maybe sooner than you’d like. I just don’t understand thinking the family or even the patient should be okay with that simply because it’s logical. The heart’s not always logical.

 

Indecipherable Tax Time

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Just so we’re clear up front, this is pretty much exactly what I see when I pull up tax forms. Now maybe it’s because I’m a senior; maybe it’s because I have an outside fledgling business and can’t get by with a simple EZ form; maybe it’s because I’m not a math genius and hate it to boot; maybe it’s all of those. Whatever the reason, I go into “dread” mode along about January 1st every year and am followed around all day, every day by a gigantic black cloud until I get the damn things filed.

It doesn’t matter how simple the program tells me it’s going to be or that I’ll be done in a split second, I’m still sitting there hours later trying to figure out either what’s it’s asking me to input or (having actually made it through the “rough draft) I find myself wrestling with whatever “simple” corrections it says I need to complete before I can file.

And then, of course, regardless of whether it’s perfect or less than perfect, I spend the next year wondering if someone is going to compare this year’s taxes with last year’s taxes, come to the conclusion that I’m doing my best to be able to retire on my refund (uh, good luck with that!) and either throw me in jail or charge me more than I would’ve gotten in the first place to make up for my filing transgressions. The biggest worry? What if I have to sit down with an IRS agent and go through the rationale of how I arrived at the total I put in blank number X, or why I decided something was a depreciation claim, or could I prove what I had for dinner at a restaurant I claimed as an expense that would justify the cost; etc. etc. etc.

Isolated wooden chair in a dark scary prison with an interrogation spotlight

My little outside business was audited by the state last year and that was exactly the scenario I faced. The man tried very hard to be patient but the problem is that they speak an entirely different language than I do and some of their questions sound like someone talking to me from under water. I sit there, desperately trying to get my mind to put the words into a recognizable sentence but somehow all I hear is, “Sklkjae ha; eiyr -98nodh?” Uh … yes?

So every year, I do my best to get through an online filing in less than three hours and without a headache at the end. Nevertheless, I find myself starting to “slur” through the pages, getting less and less focused on what the hell they’re asking and making my best guess as to what that might be. That’s probably the part that worries me the most. Maybe when that agent shows up at my door asking questions when I’m relatively fresh and haven’t been staring at indecipherable forms for several hours, some of the stuff I input will look stupid to me and I, like he, will wonder what I was thinking. Do they get that? Do they realize that if things weren’t so obtuse, I might get the right answers the first time around? Or do they assume I’m trying to get by with something?

I’m sure everything seems logical and straightforward to them. To me, it looks something like this: Please tell us about your office expenses. If you input less than $200 on line B, you’ll need to fill our Form 20-A and then return to Form 62-B before you can proceed. If, however, your total is more than $250, you will be excluded from filling out Form C and will need to list each item separately on Page 47. How many times do you reckon I’d have to read that before any of it was coherent?

Since that sort of gobbledy-gook normally happens within the first 5 minutes, by the time I’ve gone through 20 or 30 screens — well, you can see why I’m exhausted after 3 hours and why I dread tax season every year.