coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Monday, January 25, 2016

Dreaming and the unconscious mind

I had an interesting dream last night, wherein my unconscious mind sent me a very clear message about what to do next. I think that is almost always what dreams attempt to do, but this dream was actually clear enough for me to understand.

A little over a week ago one of my best friends, ShS, died of lung cancer. It was unexpected. She lives up North, so I have not seen her for almost two years, but we talked on the phone. She was an integral part of my group of friends, and has been since about 1993. She was also an amazing person, almost always positive and up for a laugh. We had such fun over the years. I am going to miss her terribly.

Her first marriage was difficult and ended in divorce, twice. Her second marriage (or maybe it is her third since she married that first husband, the raging asshole, twice?) was to a kindly man who loved her completely. They were together for 36 years. 

I have been concerned about her husband, K, since her death. At 70 years old, and with health issues of his own, I worry about him being alone. I know grief can be brutal. He is probably numb right now. How will he cope?

In my dream K sent me photographs he took of winter scenes via email attachments. There were at least a dozen of his lovely photographs, appearing almost black and white only because that is what winter looks like in Upstate New York. Perhaps also because that is what grief looks like? The subject matter was simple, stark, cold, and beautiful. He took pictures conveying his loneliness and sorrow. He did not turn away from his pain; instead, he made a picture of it and made it beautiful.

I was awestruck by those photos. When I awoke, at 3 a.m., I could not wait to send them to K so he could see what he needed to do. As I returned to my conscious state, I sadly realized I actually didn't have the photos. They were not in my email in real life. They were part of the dream.

It occurred to me that was what art therapy does for a person in crisis. It allows a suffering human being to plug into the creative imagination and find some relief from pain. It frees the symbolic to work on our damaged psyches, allowing that great archetypal world to soothe and begin to heal us. We experience the symbolic most purely without words, without language. I wonder if truth is easier to accept in that form?

I am going to share this dream with K. However, I know that the dream was also for me. Dreams are always for the dreamer.  Everyone who appears in a dream is a symbolic part of the dreamer. I am pretty sure that is true. So this message about managing grief with the visual arts, although universal, is one that I need to embrace and explore as well.  

Footprint and pansy in the snow

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


January is the darkest, coldest month AND it is a full 31 days.  When I lived in Upstate New York I really dreaded January.  It seemed to last forever, and I could never get warm.  All the beautiful hills were gray and white.  Green was a memory, something to look forward to.  January was the month I had to "endure."

I know some people dislike February or March more than January. They are sick of winter by then. Cabin fever sets in and the continued cold and snow becomes unbearable. I understand that. I felt those feelings. However, I always thought February arrived with hope. February was what you earned for living through January. In my mind I had to get on the other side of January before I could begin to imagine spring might actually return.

I used to live in fear of snowstorms, not because I disliked the snow, but because I had to drive to work in it.  I do not miss white-knuckle driving.

The University was famous for never closing because of weather. In fact, I think it officially closed for a snow day only 3 or 4 times in the 37 years I worked there. A special breed of stoic, fearless, and hardy souls live in the frozen Northlands! If you can withstand a long, cold northern winter you can withstand just about anything.

In Florida there is no snow; however, we are having our "winter" right now.  It was in the low 50's all day yesterday.  We turned our heat on for the 3rd time in 2 years.  I went to the doctor and that is all anyone in the office could talk about, the chill.  Ha!  But I was right there with them, annoyed that I had to wear socks and a light jacket. 

One of the nurses, a woman who had already revealed to me that she was originally from the Bronx, winked at me and said "We are spoiled down here!"  We smiled, knowingly.  We continued to complain about the weather with the rest of them, but we knew better.

The best part of winter in Central Florida is the relentless sun, which shines bold and bright almost every day. I never take it for granted, and it never gets old.

And what kind of doctor did I go to?  A dermatologist, of course.  Too much sun and you get actinic keratoses that have to be removed.  Nothing and nowhere is perfect.

A walkway at Leu Gardens in Orlando, Florida - January 2016

Friday, January 15, 2016


I have been thinking about how different office work was when I started my first "real" job, as a secretary, in 1976.

We still used mimeograph machines and/or carbon paper to generate paper copies.  Photocopiers were just being introduced but they were still too expensive for most offices.

I used a massive IBM Selectric II typewriter. Thankfully, I was not in the workforce before electronic typewriters. I was never coordinated enough to type on those old manual cross-bar typewriters with any speed or accuracy, although I did have one at home. 

I worked in an academic office at a university and most of the faculty did not know how to type. That was the norm. Faculty members wrote papers and letters in longhand and brought their notes to secretaries to type. The handwritten text was often a mess, with corrections, arrows moving paragraphs around, additional text written on separate pieces of paper to be inserted elsewhere, coffee stains, etc. In my mid-20's, with few marketable skills and no office experience, I was hired for my first job because I was the only job candidate who could read the professor's handwriting. 

In 1976 I did not mind being called a “secretary.” If someone tried to refer to me back then as an “office professional” I would have laughed, thinking they were trying to patronize me. And the title "administrative assistant" would have sounded like a demotion. Now office workers bristle if you refer to them as a secretary. It is interesting how the job title "secretary" diminished in status over the years.

In the late 1970’s I started doing research fund accounting. All my account ledgers were done in pen and ink. I used red and black pens, and I had my favorite brands. I remember it was a great pleasure putting pen to paper.

I spent my days recording columns of data by hand and then adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing on my electronic calculator, an essential and well-loved machine that took up a good part of my desk. It was big and white and looked like you could jump in and drive it away. 

Cutting and pasting was actually that, except we used tape instead of paste. I imagine there was a time when paste was used, but not in my life time. I cut typed excerpts and pieced them together on a plain white sheet of paper. I took great care to fit and tape the pieces together so they looked like they had been typed to look that way.

If you made a typing mistake you used a covering liquid like "White-Out." That was a little tricky when using carbon paper, but we managed.  If it looked bad you simply started over again. We were touch typists; we were very fast.  Retyping a page did not seem like a big deal.

Before computers we communicated via paper or telephone. If you wanted to tell an individual something you picked up the telephone and called them. There were no answering machines, so you had to keep trying to catch the person at their desk through an elaborate game of telephone tag.

Communicating with large groups was labor intensive. We made copies of a memo to place in each faculty/staff/student mailbox. If you worked in the central administration you made copies, addressed and stuffed a zillion envelopes, and sent them in mass mailings via campus or USPS mail.

In the early 1980's IBM Displaywriters replaced electric typewriters. They were word processors that allowed typists to digitally view
a certain amount of text and correct errors before printing the page. Displaywriters also included a mail merge ability. It is hard to imagine how revolutionary these functions were. I was doing accounting then, so I did not get a Displaywriter. I remember being jealous of the office staff who did. Not to worry! Personal computers and spreadsheet software were just around the corner.

About 1985, personal computers were introduced and everything changed dramatically. Suddenly work became fun. At first not everyone had one on their desk. Instead, you went to the computer room to use a shared computer. There was a sign-up sheet and you signed up for a time slot to use a computer.

Computers did not yet have hard drives storing software or files. You inserted a “systems disk” to start the software from, and you saved your files on a separate floppy disk. I remember becoming confused at first and accidentally erased the software system disk. It was an embarrassing mistake. I quickly learned to pay closer attention.

I distinctly remember when email was introduced soon after computers. Suddenly you could communicate quickly and effectively without wasting time. However, at first you could not count on someone checking their email messages every day. 

I am out of the workforce now, but I wonder what changes the next 40 years will bring?  With future advancements in Artificial Intelligence I wonder if there will even be a need for human office workers in the future?  That is a sobering thought.

IBM Selectric Typewriter

Monday, January 11, 2016

Turn and face the strange

In October 1972, T and I went to see David Bowie perform as  Ziggy Stardust at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago. I had been obsessed with David Bowie ever since we discovered his UK album, The Man Who Sold the World.  I will leave it to the experts to extol his virtues and describe his many contributions to the history of rock and roll.

Now I am going to spend the afternoon listening to all his pre-Young Americans music.  For my money, everything he recorded prior to 1975 was pure gold.

He was such a fearlessly creative soul.  And that video he recently released (Lazarus)!  Wow.  Leave it to Bowie to show us how to die well.

"TheManWhoSoldtheWorld" by May be found at the following website: Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Bon Voyage!

When you work for a large organization you are expected to fit in. After a number of years of putting on your game face every workday morning you become accustomed to being less of an individual. It starts to feel normal being one of many, of being part of a team. Individuality can be problematic in the workplace. Sometimes I felt being "professional" actually meant being generic.

It took a while, but eventually I surrendered to my place in the larger scheme of things. I settled into a job skill that seemed creative to me.  I made it work.

I am not complaining. I enjoyed working and I was happy to be part of something bigger than myself. However, I am relieved to be done with that part of my life. I enjoy being retired. I can finally be myself everyday, all the time. That is a big change from being a worker bee.

I love the character “
Seven of Nine” from Star Trek’s Voyager. Voyager ran for 7 seasons, but the first three were a bit clunky. Seven of Nine was introduced in season 4, and absolutely "made" the series from then on.

As a young child she and her human family had been forcibly and physically assimilated into the Borg, an alien cybernetic society representing the ultimate workforce collective: The Hive Mind.

The Borg Collective organized their technologically enhanced workforce into teams of 9 "drones." Borg do not have individuality or names, but her team designation was Seven of Nine. Eventually the all-too-human crew of the Starship Voyager captured her and
liberated her from the collective.

Before liberation she was the perfect employee, absolutely without individual will or personal reflection. The Borg Collective was a monster of efficiency! The post-liberation
Seven of Nine struggled to rediscover what it meant to be human, what it meant to think or act as an individual. Seven did not always approve of the lack of efficiency that arose when one acted alone, but she was intrigued by humanity. She thought she would give individuality a try.

A dear friend of mine retired last Friday. Yesterday was the first scheduled workday she did not get up and go to work outside her home. I just asked her how she was doing and she said she felt "undefined."  That is the perfect word to describe the early days/months/years of retirement: undefined.  After years of being part of a complex collective effort what are we when we stand alone?

If her experience of retirement is like mine, it will seem like vacation for a while. Retirement isn't a vacation, though. There is still work to be done. You need to redefine yourself, not as part of an organization but as an individual.

An look inside the Apollo 14 Command Module at the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida