coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Friday, February 26, 2016

Cruel to be kind, in the right measure

Although there can still be the odd day in the mid-50's (Fahrenheit...), now there are an increasing number of days in Central Florida when the temperature hits the mid-70's. The deciduous trees remain stark and bare; no sign of leafing out yet, but it won't be long. Spring is definitely on its way.

The crepe myrtles in the neighborhood have been cropped cruelly hard, looking like massive sticks. They look terrible right now, but it had to be done. Proper pruning promotes new growth and keeps plants full and lush.

Crepe myrtle waiting for spring, and some azaleas beating them to the punch.
Those are live oaks in the background, they are called that because they don't lose their leaves in the winter.
When it comes to gardening, you have to be cruel to be kind, as the man sang back in 1979.

Once again it is time to work outside, pruning, moving, dividing, and planting. That is exactly what I have been doing all week. It feels good to be outside digging in the dirt again, knowing good times are ahead. Any minute there will be a surge of life and all those gnarly twigs and massive sticks will wake up, bursting open and showing us what they can do.

I have been looking forward to this gardening season. We are less Upstate New Yorkers and more Central Floridians now. It is human nature to acclimate over time. It happens if you live someplace long enough, even if you stubbornly don't want to change.

I have a better appreciation for this place and some idea of what will grow here. More to the point, I know what will NOT grow here. I learned the hard way. I guess I have been pruned back hard, too. I am anxious to see what I can do, once spring brings me back to life.

And yes, that is the fabulous Carlene Carter who married Nick Lowe in this video. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Arm Wrestling

AAAAACK, what a morning.

T is going to a physical therapist for short term treatment. No big deal, right? If only it was simply about physical therapy; but no,
bureaucracy is involved. I swear people are becoming less willing to think for themselves as technology gets smarter.  

Don't get me wrong. I have great respect for bureaucracy. I realize bureaucracy is the basis of modern civilization and without it we would be subject to the whims of inbred, hereditary tribal strong-men. I just happen to think humans should run the bureaucracy instead of vice versa.

Apparently it is the responsibility of this clinic's receptionist to verify insurance when a client starts PT. In doing so, she made a simple mistake, noting in the computer file that we had a large deductible to be met before our insurance could kick in. In fact, our current insurance has no deductible for PT.  When T came back saying he had paid a large bill in cash at the front desk, I was "surprised."

I am the one in our relationship who deals with bureaucracy. It is what I did in my work-life. I cannot say I "like" dealing with bureaucracy, but I am comfortable navigating those murky damn waters.

I called the clinic billing office. The woman I talked to (let's call her Miss No) was adamant the notation in T's file proved there was a deductible. I tried to get her to hear what I was saying. She simply could not believe her computer screen was wrong. Interesting assumption.  

I quickly realized that instead of listening to what I was saying, Miss No assumed I was a dotty old hag who simply did not understand what a deductible was. If you are not an older person you may not fully understand how infuriating that stereotype is. But you will... 

As she calmly and painstakingly took the time to explain this great mystery called deductibles
I fantasized about reaching through the phone lines to wring her neck. I let her finish and then I calmly and painstakingly reiterated there is no deductible required for PT in our insurance policy.

I knew Miss No was going to get annoyed when I did not say "thank you" and hang up, but I couldn't.
We do not have the money to waste on a deductible that is not required. I also couldn't back down, because, well, I was right.

It was hard to convince her there "might" be an error. She was busy, probably overworked. Truthfully, I was sympathetic. I found myself hoping she was right and I was wrong so that I could hang up and leave her alone.

Sheesh, I hate when I do that - put other people's feelings and desires ahead of my own. Gloria Steinem would be SO pissed, and there is probably a special place in hell for women who get too tired to fight back. Luckily for my immortal soul I am a woman, W-O-M-A-N, and I just couldn't let it go.

Miss No wanted me to go away.
She hung tight to the idea that if there was a note in the file, then all was right with the world.
She said the receptionist had already verified my insurance and indicated the deductible based on what the insurance company said. Miss No was having a hard time understanding why I didn't accept that. In truth, I totally accepted what she said happened
, but I also knew there was an error. Why is that so hard to believe?

If a customer insists, you really should take a fresh look. It will go a long way towards making your customer feel valued, and it will prove what is right and what is wrong in a way the customer can accept. If you just try to shut the customer down, s/he is going to feel like you do not care and you have not listened. Which, by the way, will be true. And, of course, it works both ways.

Finally, I told Miss No she was probably right (big fat hairy lie on my part) but I was going to call the insurance company to make sure. That made her happy. She probably assumed she would never hear from me again

The insurance company quickly confirmed there was no deductible. I called Miss No back, left a message, and waited.

Eventually she called me back to say that she would have the receptionist call the insurance company to re-verify as well. Fair enough. Now we were cooking with gas!

Later in the morning I got a call from the receptionist, apologizing. She had been in error when she first verified our policy and left the note in the file. She seemed nervous, as if Miss No had chewed her out for making a mistake. Or maybe she was afraid I would yell at her? I was not angry with her in the least.

I support a person's right to be wrong. I do not mind mistakes being made unless they make me physically ill, or dead, or change the course of human events in a really bad and significant way. We all make mistakes. We are only human. That is how we learn. The person I was annoyed with was Miss No because I practically had to arm wrestle her to get her to take me seriously. It is hard not to take that personal.

By the time Artificial Intelligence is advanced enough to take over the world and replace humans with robots I think I might be ready for it. By then I will be much too old and feeble to win an arm wrestling match.

Sometimes we can't see the forest because of all the big-ass rocks that are blocking our view

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

I've got bagels!

We found a real live, honest to God BAGELRY in Central Florida! It is a dream come true.

We were on our way to see the manatees who huddle together at Blue Springs State Park where they spend what animals from this part of the world like to refer to as winter. T was driving and I was riding shot-gun. Now that I have discovered strip malls hold the secret to the Central Florida eating experience, I spend my travel time scanning an endless procession of strip malls (aka open air shopping areas stretched out in a line) for eating opps as we drive by.  I have come to realize the better eating joints are often in the older strip malls. The newer malls tend to house franchises. All of this is counterintuitive, I know, but I am learning. 

The magnificent "bagelry" sign caught my eye as we drove by a funky old strip mall alongside the highway. The mall itself was old and deteriorated.  I had to force myself to look at the stores, but there it was. I screamed "BAGELS" and T skillfully maneuvered to the extreme left of our three possible lanes and made the first U-turn he could so we could retrace our steps and check that sucker out.

The storefront has seen better days, and the inside has not been updated since about 1975. The signs describing the offerings were all handwritten on white paper with magic marker. It was, in a word, perfect! They sold bagels that are made at their main bagelry in Daytona, which is about an hour away from this sacred temple. They had 17 different kinds of bagels! I told you that if we were to find real bagels they would have to come from the Atlantic Ocean side of Florida! This bagelry also sells rugelach, black-and-white cookies, and potato knishes. Geez-O-Pete, I think I have died and gone to heaven.

You know a good bagelry when it is filled with crates of different kinds of bagels and you get to pick and choose what goes into your bag. After loading up, we ordered potato knishes to go, with spicy mustard of course. T ate his while he drove, which was a truly harrowing driving experience.  For me, anyway. He seemed more concerned about how much potato filling fell into his lap.

My breakfast this morning, a plain bagel with toasted cheese.  Life is good.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

When smoke gets in your eyes

It is always interesting when the same topic pops up all over the place and becomes a pattern or a theme. Anger has been discussed and/or displayed on a number of different, unrelated blogs lately, and people are going nuts with angry rants on social media.

Perhaps it's happening because it is February and cabin fever is getting to people? Or maybe because politics are so disrespectfully infuriating and in-our-face right now? Who knows? I don't. I only know anger is out there in full force and it gives me pause.

This post is going to be about anger but
I want to be clear. I am not writing about your anger, that's your business. I am writing about my own. 

I'm a bit of a hot head. I have a short fuse.  However,
I try to tread lightly around anger because I like it too much. I am not referring to bad temper, annoyance, or crankiness. Those things are interesting as well, but are not really "anger" in my book. I am thinking specifically about the kind of anger that is a reaction against an injustice.
You know, the kind of anger that turns red hot and makes smoke come out of your ears?

Anger is complex. It can also be comforting and seductively familiar. I could easily get stuck in an angry loop. I totally get that. However, being rip-snorting mad always makes me feel like crap once I come back down to earth. I
wish I could learn to manage my emotions better so my anger could work for me instead of against me.

Please note I said "manage" and not "eliminate."
Anger definitely has its place. I think of it like the good china, or the good scotch. You only bring it out when the situation warrants and absolutely nothing else will do.

Anger seems like the opposite of good, but it isn’t. Anger is an appropriate reaction to injustice. I mean, how is the universe going to hear us unless we yell really, really loud? Still, I don't want strong emotions to own me.

Quilt: Unresolved Emotional Themes

Saturday, February 6, 2016

True Colors

At the end of this month I am going to see Kinky Boots with my daughter and granddaughter. I have always liked Cyndi Lauper. The highlights of her career took place in my daughter's heyday, not mine. However, Cyndi is only 2 years younger than me. That always gave me pause and inspired me a bit.

There is great pressure on women to "act our age" and to live our lives according to age appropriate norms. She never allowed herself to be bullied in that way. I like that she retained her youthfulness and quirkiness. I like that she always promoted equality and acceptance. She has always been honest, genuine, and true to herself. That's why I love her.

Cyndi Lauper - True Colors (Live Letterman 1986) from You Tube

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