Saturday, July 28, 2007

Even less exciting than it sounds, but with some good bits

The hotel I stayed at last night did not have room service but it DID have separate fish and game cleaning rooms out back. That about sums it up. For those of you unclear as to why one would need a fish and game cleaning room,let me just explain that if you catch a large quantity of fish or shoot a deer and then you skin it or fillet it in the room, this leaves a less than desirable odor and traces of blood and guts for the subsequent occupants. Those of you who have complained about occupying a "non-smoking room" following a smoker have nothing to talk about compared to this. So, be grateful for conveniences like the fish and game cleaning room located behind the hotel.

In a few short minutes, the plane will be boarding and I will be leaving North Dakota for the last time after 17 years of living and working out here. Erich went with me to Jamestown earlier this week to visit Ron's grave. Maybe I will write about that some other time, and maybe not. I am not sure it was important to do to have closure. I guess at some level deep down I really did want to go, because I brought it up when I was talking to Erich. To the Sioux, spirituality and customs surrounding death are a part of life. One of the things I like about Erich is that he is a genuine person. I always have to laugh at those people I meet in LA or at conferences who tell me they 'just found out' that their grandmother was a Cherokee princess and then have all this new-found "Native American knowledge" that some how they claim as part of their roots. As a woman I met at the Turtle Mountain Reservation said to me this week,
"I am not so concerned about my grandchildren's tribal enrollment. I am concerned that they are Indian in their hearts."

I would say, of all of the people I have ever met, Erich is one of the most Indian in his heart, which is why I knew the second I mentioned to him that I had never visited my husband's grave and I was thinking about it that we would be going to the cemetery the next day.

So, that is over. In a way, it feels like one more loose end tied up and now I am leaving North Dakota for good. There are things that make me feel humbled as I look back.

On Thursday and Friday, Willie Davis and I did a workshop on Young Children and Disability There were 47 people who attended over the two days; 42 of them attended for both days. There were young, expectant mothers there with the baby's father and a couple of new mothers as well. On my way out, I passed a gentleman from the college who said with some amusement,

"I was outside having a cigarette and I overheard a lot of these young guys talking. Everyone of them jerked a finger towards his girlfriend and said, SHE made me come, but you know what, it wasn't bad."

More than the fact that people who had no interest in coming find the workshop to be useful, what made me feel best was the fact that not only did these young mothers-to-be care enough about being a good mother that they spent two days at a workshop, but they cared enough to insist the baby's father come with them. During the two days, I noticed a few times when I would talk about newborns or using toys to teach and the young couples would lean over and whisper to one another. They took turns printing out pages on everything from what to expect in the first six weeks to teaching language.

I hope we helped them some. These young women have my respect. They are starting families at a young age, with little money, not a lot of education and sometimes without a father in the picture. Yet, they all made the effort to come to the college and be actively involved in class six hours a day just so they could learn how to better care for their baby. That in itself is enough to give you hope for their babies' future.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

And Then Again, Maybe I Won't

Most of my life, I have worked two or three jobs, or worked full-time, attended college full-time and competed on the U.S. judo team. Today, I decided - STOP!

When I added up the hours I would need to work over the next few months to write the next two grants, the interim report on one project, the final report on another project, teach a graduate statistics course, give two national conference presentations on opposite coasts, complete two evaluations for clients and write two e-learning courses, it came to over 90 hours a week. Not that there is anything new about that, because I have been working 90-hour weeks for the last couple of decades.

Instead, I decided to take a sabbatical. Starting in January, I am going to work half-time, as in 20-25 hours a week.

My daughter, Jenn, shown at left in a bad mood because we made her wake up before 9 a.m. one morning, said to me,

"Ha! I don't believe it. I think you will work a normal number of hours maybe, instead of an insane number of hours. I can't imagine you working less than 40 hours a week."

There is some cause for Jenn's skepticism, given that my record of number of hours without working in the last twenty years stands at 72 hours. This was three days when Maria and I took a cruise to the Bahamas, and the second we were in the Miamia airport I was checking email on my Treo and writing responses to clients to be emailed when I hit some civilized place. Can you believe the Miami Airport did not have wireless???

So, my plan is to ease into it and not work after 7 p.m. any longer and to take Saturdays off. Everyone who knows me is betting I can't do it. I did knock off work at 7:20 today, but then I had something to finish so I started working again at 9. So far, I am up to zero. Not a good start.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

How Others See Us

Robert Burns said,
"O would some power the gift to give us
To see ourselves as others see us."

Your real friends will be honest with you, whether it has to do with your training, your career or your love life. We think that is what friends are for. There is natural human tendency to look at ourselves in the best possible light. Our company received a grant from the USDA to develop an on-line ethics course and my partner commented to me, "It's going to be difficult to change when everyone is going to think that he is the most ethical person in the room."

The hangers-on, the people who are only around when you win a gold medal, will tell you what you want to hear,
"Oh, no, you don't look fat. You look great. You are training plenty hard enough. Come on out with us and have a drink. You deserve a break."

True friends are usually set to burst your bubble,
"You know you have to make weight at the U.S. Open in two weeks. Really, you don't want to be running in the sauna that morning. You need to get up and run tomorrow. Let's just have water. I'd rather have beer, too, but we can go out and celebrate together after you win the U.S. Open."

Your real friends are also there for you when you are down. When, and we all get this way, that you think, as my daughter says, that 'My judo sucks worse than a naked mole rat," when you feel like a six-year-old with a crayon can write better articles than you, those same people are there to remind you of the successes you have had in the past and will have again.

For better or worse, though, most of us have friends who are similar to ourselves. They think the same things are funny or rude, annoying or harmless, reasonable or completely out of line.

Recently, though, I had two experiences that were quite the opposite. First, someone commented that for a new program in Los Angeles to succeed, we needed to find someone competent to run it. Since I was proposing to run it, that really hurt my feelings. I told him that while there was no doubt he is very, very good at what he does, I found his attitude that the only capable person in the world was him was to be unbelievably arrogant and offensive. He tried to say we just had a difference of opinion, and I responded,
"No! You're not getting out of it that way. Your opinion is that I'm not good enough and the fact is that I am. That doesn't just make you someone with a different opinion. It makes you a jerk!"

The very next day, someone emailed me about my blog and told me that I was arrogant, that having a Ph.D. neither makes me more creative than other people nor better than they are. When I wrote back that I was sorry he took it that way. it was just supposed to be funny he responded,
"It is not just me. I did not see the humor in it. And when you put yourself up as above other people, they will look for every opportunity to tear you down."

This is what is referred to in education textbooks as "a teachable moment". The temptation was to hang out with my friends who would tell me that the writer was wrong, that I am a good person, if he just knew me he would understand that and besides, who cares what people who don't know you well think about you. Okay, I admit I gave into that temptation temporarily.

But, then, I thought he had actually given me a very valuable lesson, because the truth is, I do realize that, as Will Rogers said,
"Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects."

It's become fashionable to say that one doesn't care what other people think, but that is really a pretty antisocial attitude. That's not to say that our whole lives should be dictated by a public opinion poll or that I am going to quit wearing those pumpkin-orange tennis shoes I have just because my daughters hate them.

I do care what people think. I care if they feel put down or disrespected by me, because I know how I felt when someone treated me that way. Seeing how other people see us is sometimes painful and humbling. Still, it can be a learning experience which is, as my grandmother explained it, what you get when you don't get what you want.

What do I honestly think about education, achievements, life, the universe and everything? Since it is 1 a.m. already, that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

It's Only Important to You

Julia and I were at the Renaissance Fair a few weeks ago and climbed up on the exhibit. As usual, Dennis said,
"I don't think you should do that."
We always do it anyway, and he always takes a picture. I suppose this is so he has photographic evidence of my criminal tendencies which I am instilling into my daughter at a young age, so if we ever get divorced and he wants child custody or he decides to have me committed, freeing him to cavort with a twenty-year-old blonde nymphomaniac, he'll be ready. I bet my first husband wishes he had thought of that.

The Renaissance Fair got me to thinking about how we all have our separate obsessions. Here are hundreds of people in leather and velvet get-up out in the hot sun, weaving, sword-fighting, glass-blowing, candle-making and setting up exhibits that they wish people like me would not climb up on. You can tell that many of them are really, really into it and they see each other all the time at medieval thingies and they discuss among themselves who is the most medieval-est and whose outfit looks like they bought it at Wal-Mart.

Whether it is a Renaissance Fair, a condo owner's association or the United States Judo Association, which I am off to attend tomorrow, there is always a small rabid group who is concerned about the purity of whatever group it is, raising their blood pressure over how there is NO WAY that Jeffrey Katzenjammer should be the secretary because he can only type with two fingers and he moves his lips when he reads.

NEWS FLASH - Whether it is the Renaissance Faire or the South Carolina Llama Growers' Association, the Chamber of Commerce of Petaluma or the Santa Monica Organic Knitters or, yes, any judo association - to most people, it is not a huge deal. Most of them will walk through whatever your event or meeting is, nod, take a picture, make a snide or nice comment in your blog. They will have the same reaction I did to the Renaissance Faire, "Hey, isn't that cool," but it really is not a central feature of life for any but a handful of people.

Judo is great. The Renaissance Faire is cool to look at, yarn is warm and llamas are furry. Whatever your thing is, I am sure it has something to recommend it, but seriously, chill. Jeffrey is doing the best he can and if it is really true that the pinnacle of achievement in his life is to be the secretary of some obscure association, how sad is that. He already has his own punishment, if he is a jerk, and if not and you get off his case, maybe he will have time to get to those reading lessons.

Forget the Jeffreys and the arguments about whose uniform is the whitest and who memorized Roberts Rules of Order. Try to appreciate the good things about what you are doing, the furriness of llamas. When you do have put up with an insufferable pompous ass, avoid them or ignore them. As Roy Hash of the USJA says, adopt the 'toad in the road philosophy' toward those who have nothing to do but stand around and criticize how you filled out your paperwork.

I asked him what that was and he explained,
"In Texas, we have a lot more toads than we need. If one of them is in the road and I can avoid running over it and messing up my tires, I do. If not, I run over it. I don't stop my truck and wait for it to decide to move. I don't turn away from my destination and go back home. And after I run over it, I never think about that toad again."

So, good for you for trying to improve the beauty of downtown Petaluma and the next time someone complains at a meeting that you did not get 11 forms signed in triplicate before you organized the elementary school to go out and pick up garbage, just nod and think of the toad in the road.