Wednesday, October 27, 2021

One Creative Thing a Day

Every few years I become aware of how dependent I am on my cell phone. Last week when we were changing cell phone plans I lost access to my phone for three days. I freaked out. My partner and my seventeen-year-old daughter watched with curiosity and disdain as I morphed into a hideous monster trying to convince innocent customer service agents to fix a problem that was clearly out of their reach.

After my six hours of outrage and still no phone, I had a moment of clarity. Maybe there was a reason that this happened to me. Maybe this was a sign that my relationship with my cell phone is out of control. Around the same time that my cell phone stopped working, I went to my first live concert since COVID. We went to see Frazey Ford, a female vocalist about my age. The concert was inspiring and fun and enlivening. 

I fell in love with Frazey Ford and her “backup singer” Caroline Ballhorn. Caroline wasn’t really wasn’t back up; her voice really made you want to rise up. Both of them had both voices and energy that lit up the stage, the room, and something inside of me. When I got home I googled them both on my laptop and went down a rabbit hole on each of their Instagrams. Both are wildly creative, not just in music but in other art forms.

“I used to be like that,” I thought to myself. I used to be way more creative than I am now. Maybe that’s why I was given a forced break from my cell phone — to remember my creative self. The next morning I vowed to do one creative thing every day.

I started by going to our piano and trying to play “In the Shallows” by Lady Gaga, a song my daughter taught me to play a few years ago. I am not good at piano and have forgotten how to read music. I can only play by memorizing chords and piecing them together into a song. It was a slow start. I needed to look up A-minor was a few times, but I did it. After a few days of practicing it got better. I’m improving every day.

Later that afternoon I went to a dance practice for a Halloween Thriller flash mob. The goal is to learn the six-plus minute Michael Jackson Thriller dance and flash mob it at a Halloween Parade. The dance crew is me, a few other adult women, and lots of teenage girls. Learning the moves is grueling and confusing. My body is out of practice and my brain moves much more slowly than it used to. In addition to the live practices, I practice at home by watching video tutorials on my laptop. Each practice counts as one creative thing. 

The morning after the Frazey Ford concert I got my watercolors out. “I need to leave these out on the dining room table,” I told my partner Nancy. “I’m doing one creative thing a day and I want to be able to just sit down and watercolor.” 

“Great,” she said, “that’s fun.”

My first watercolor was a landscape of the lake outside my window. The next day I took an online class on how to paint a flower. Later that week I took a walk and shot a photo of a sewer grate and painted that. Yesterday I collected a red leaf from our sidewalk and painted that.

For over a week I have done at least one creative thing a day, usually two or three. On Monday I started preparing for my new job at the University. I’m going to be managing a program for the elderly, creating programs for them that will curb and mitigate dementia and social isolation. It’s a serious job and I’ll have a lot less time to do things like practice piano and watercolor techniques.

As I sat on my couch reading research articles updating me on statistics about this population and best practices, I found myself jotting down notes about creative ways to engage these older people. I imagined pop-up lunches at local restaurants and a collaboration with the museum to do art projects. This was fun. I was creatively thinking about this new, serious job. My daily dose of creativity had seeped into this other realm of my life.

Most mornings I write, which is creative. But it’s something I do so regularly that I don’t have to try. I am not stepping out of my comfort zone to write. Playing the piano, dancing, and making art are activities I am not used to doing. And that’s why I have to do them. They push me to access a part of myself that lies dormant if I don’t. So as I begin this new chapter of new job, less time, I’m committed to keeping my daily dose of creativity.

I have my phone back and I’m grateful. I love the convenience of this device, but I can feel the benefits of using it less. Adding this new daily practice — one creative thing a day — makes me feel better. I feel more balanced, more like myself. When I play the piano or paint or do dance practice, even when I write, I can’t look at my phone. I have to focus elsewhere —  see different images, hear different sounds, feel different feelings. One creative thing a day. That’s all it takes. 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Negotiating as a Woman

 I was recently offered a job at a large institution in my city. As a long-time entrepreneur, I had made the decision to stop struggling so hard and step into some stability. I was glad to be transitioning to a steady job with a regular paycheck and benefits. 

I was (and am) excited about my new role and this next chapter in my life. When I received the offer letter from the institution I was surprised by the package. It wasn’t what I had expected. I consulted with my partner who is an employment attorney and a good friend who works at the said institution about what to do.

Together we came up with a counter-proposal to the Human Resources department. I was nervous and scared to be pushing back against such an albatross of bureaucracy. I felt out of place — tiny me asking this behemoth of an organization for more money and better benefits. There was a part of me that felt like I should just take what they offered, that I was lucky to be getting a job at all after all of these years of running my own business and being my own boss.

But my ego, bolstered by my friend and partner, cheered me on. I pushed back to HR and asked for what I wanted, what I thought I deserved. And they said no. They said the offer was firm and it was all they had to give me. They said their offer was actually on the higher range of what they normally offer for a position such as mine. They’d won and I’d lost.

I felt so exposed. I felt like I had just walked into Nordstrom completely naked with dirty feet and greasy hair. Everyone around could see me. They were staring and snickering. The jig was up. There was no more discussion. If I wanted the job I would take their offer.

And I did (and do!) want the job. I am excited about it and can’t wait to get started. Now, naked and exposed, the ball was in my court. As I waited and worried about what to do, the director of the department where I would be working sent me an email saying that she wanted to have a phone conversation with me to talk things through before we went any further. 

I panicked. I had asked for too much. I was out of line. Out of touch. I was an egomaniac. A spoiled brat. An entitled asshole. I didn’t deserve what I had asked for. I had ruined my chances. Soiled the nest. As the time for our phone call approached I paced from my kitchen to my office twenty-nine times. I felt like I was going to throw up. I role-played with my partner. I read and re-read emails between me and HR. I felt desperate — one-inch tall, lost and afraid in a meadow of tall grass. At 3:00 pm my future boss called. 

“Listen,” she said in a strong, clear, experienced voice, “I am in full support of people advocating for a higher salary. As a woman, I am especially happy when I see other women doing it. You didn’t do anything wrong,” she stressed, “we just don’t have any more money to offer. But I want you to know that I will always do my best to get you and everyone on my team the best deal I can.”

We talked a bit more to clear up our understanding and expectations of our future working together. I no longer felt nauseous or one inch tall. I felt okay. I had gone to the edge of my vulnerability threshold and come out on the other side. 

When we hung up I understood how important this negotiation process had been for me. My ego had pole-vaulted to the front of my consciousness and made her point that I should push back loud and clear. I did. It was brutal and uncomfortable and unsuccessful. But it was a necessary step in my evolution as a woman and as an employee. 

Later that evening I took my daughter to dinner and told her about my day. “Do you think if you were a man you’d have had as much trouble asking for more money?” she asked me. “Probably not,” I replied. “Do you think if a man was in your position he would have gotten what he’d asked for?” she continued. “I don’t know,” I said back as I wondered the same thing myself, “I hope not.”

And it struck me that, at seventeen, my daughter is already too familiar with this struggle of stepping up and asking for more. We learn early, as girls, to accept what is offered and not push for more. That’s why I felt like such an imposter when I requested a better package. It was a grueling by essential process. Next time I’m in this position it won’t be nearly as difficult. In the end, I didn’t get more money or better benefits but at least I tried. And that in itself is a win.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

My Daughter Can Save Herself


Last night I dreamed that I was on a beautiful island somewhere in Tahiti. I was down on the beach which somehow was a level below the area where the hotel was. I felt like it was odd but, like so many times in my life, I just accepted it and enjoyed the beach. A woman came out of the very clear water holding a gigantic frog and gathered the attention of people on the beach, myself included.

As we all walked towards the watermelon-sized slippery, brown, and yellow-spotted creature I noticed in my peripheral vision a fog of gray coming down from above. At first, I thought it was fog but then I realized it was a very light falling of sand. Before I could connect the dots, my intuition told me to run. I ran to the right, towards the water. I could hear screaming and feel the rumble of the sand crashing all around me. In my dream, I was with my daughter and a few friends; I hoped they were safe but I had no idea where they were or how they would manage this catastrophe.

The next segment of my dream had me on an electric bike riding on an island road somewhere away from the beach. At some point, I realized that I needed to find my daughter so I turned around. I expected to see people panicking around me but everyone seemed normal. There were bikers and drivers and walkers on the road with me and everyone seemed content. No one was panicking like me.

At some point on my electric bike ride, I realized that I could go much faster and I would be able to get back to the beach, and to my daughter, much faster. I don’t like speed. I don’t like feeling out of control, so when my bike got too fast I tried to break. My brakes didn’t work so I put my feet on the road which had turned into orange clay. I dug my heels into the earth to slow my bike down and as I did my wallet flew out of the bike basket into a water-filled ravine. Now I was really in trouble.

I spoke to a man sitting by the ravine and he pointed to my wallet. It was way down and there was no way for me to retrieve it. The man seemed happy though and, laughing, he assured me that no one else would be able to get my license and identification because my wallet was so far down.

I got back on my bike and rode in the direction of our hotel. Now I was really worried about my daughter. Even though she’s sixteen, nearly an adult, I still worry about her. I will always worry about her. In my dream, I worried as I do in my waking life. Was she buried in sand? Frightened? Lost? Dead?

As I rode my bike, I passed through a town and slowed down. I realized that somehow through the chaos I still had my phone. I stopped my bike and pulled it out to call my daughter. I dialed and, as I waited, I looked to my right. There, sitting on a bench in a navy blue sweatshirt with wet, sandy hair was my daughter. I watched her reach down into her bag to answer her phone.

At the moment that she answered her phone she looked at me. We were so surprised, relieved, and happy to see each other. My daughter was okay. She’d survived. In my dream, I was overwrought with emotion to see her alive. But also, in my dream state, as I looked at my daughter sitting on the bench, I saw a competent, capable almost-adult, not a helpless, lost, child on the beach. While I ran in one direction during the landslide, she had run in another, making her own decision that resulted in her safety and survival.

Being a mother is a lifetime of wonder and worry. This week my daughter will be seventeen, almost an adult. Last week when I was out of town she stayed by herself for two nights. I was so worried. I worried someone would break into the house. I worried she would have a party. I worried someone would take advantage of her being alone. But she was okay. She was great. She loved it!

My daughter has a job. She drives a car. She navigates a whole world of school, friends, relationships, and struggles that are completely outside of me.

My dream is telling me, reminding me, that my daughter is okay; that all signs point to the fact that she will continue to be okay. That long electric bike ride out of town and back again is a metaphor for my worry. It symbolizes my fear that my daughter will not be okay in the big, bad world.

In my dream, my daughter survived. And in reality, she is surviving too. She is thriving.

A friend of mine says that her mother’s love language is worry. I think it might be mine too. But I would like it not to be. In my dream, in that moment where I saw my daughter on the bench, okay and alive, plotting her next move — where to go, what to do — I experienced a sense of wonder and awe.

Last night at dinner, after a cold, wet, soccer game in the rain, my daughter rattled on about a new club she’d joined at school, about the birthday dinner she was planning with her friends, about her plans to get more hours at work. Then we all did a crossword puzzle together. Dinner doesn’t always happen like this. Often my daughter barely speaks and when dinner is over she goes to her room.

But last night was one of those rare nights where my daughter let us see her in all her glory. She’s okay. I don’t need to worry so much. If there is a landslide, or a car accident, or a heartbreak, or an earthquake, I am not going to be the one to save my daughter. She’s going to save herself.

Work Life Balance

Yesterday while I was working I thought to myself, “I could do this all day long!” And that’s a good thing because that was the plan. I rece...