Gift Horses

I just finished a Content Marketing class at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design.  This was just one of a series of Continuing Education classes they offer in the evenings and on weekends every semester. It’s a great way to increase arts education, serve the community, build a base of supporters and potential donors, and better use the building. Continuing education students might not turn into full-time students, but they learn their craft and come to love the school. Like I did.

One of the things I love about the school is the instructors. They’re working professionals. Like Ken Mueller, my instructor for Content Marketing. Ken does marketing for Occupational Development Center, a facility that helps gives jobs and purpose to adults with intellectual disabilities.

Ken also teaches the Intro to Social Media class and most of the classes in this certificate series. He also taught the full semester course for PCAD’s full time students. 

During the last class, he mentioned that the full-time students have to take social media, and they often aren’t into it. He joked that an 18-year old Ken might not have been into it either.

I get that, but they’re missing an opportunity.

I have two degrees in English. When I left graduate school, I landed in an insurance brokerage firm with a copy of Adobe PageMaker 6.5. I wasn’t a designer, but designing the internal newsletter was part of my job. 

Being open to that experience allowed me to build a career in design. I’m a very good designer now and a competent photographer. Both skills support my writing. You know – the thing I went to school for? 

Stuff

Last winter, I instituted a room by room cleaning project. I emptied closets and cupboards. Nothing was untouched. Nothing uncleaned. I got rid of boxes of stuff. 

In Brad Warner’s fantastic book, Sit Down and Shut Up, he writes this about things:

Every object you acquire comes with a certain degree of responsibility for that object. Most of us don’t realize this, which is why we treat the stuff we own so incredibly badly.  You need to take care of these things. When you don’t, you cause yourself and others a heap of trouble.

The only way to really be happy is when you desire as little as possible.

I keenly felt the burden of things during my clean out, but since then, I’ve continued to acquire. I was unable to give it up then, but I’m coming around. I just bought a new computer and deliberately let go of some files. I purchased Spotify and stopped buying music. I’m thinking of dissolving my CD collection. 

Technology helps as certain technologies go away like VCRs and DVD players, those relics left behind lose their meaning. Streaming services mean you no longer have to own your movies or your music and thus the burden of caring for it.

It’s sometimes noted with a sneer by older generations that millennials don’t want to own things like cars. I think owning things comes with a certain complexity that this generation has decided to avoid. I think we need to, perhaps, applaud that thinking and re-examine our own.

The advantage of being a student for life

I began my graduate work a few weeks after receiving my undergraduate degree. I knew I didn’t want to leave school, and I kind of never have. You shouldn’t either.

Here’s why.

I work in technology. Everything changes all the time. Being ok with being a student turned out to be a huge advantage, and it will continue to be as the world of work changes in nearly every field.

Those who learn will flourish

Tom Peters recently noted on Kara Swisher’s Recode: Decode podcast that the ability to be dedicated to reeducation will allow you to flourish in a time of change:  

I believe that the 40-year-old who is totally dedicated to reeducation every single day of the year is gonna make it and is gonna flourish. I think that they are going to flourish by being a value to some customer set, for God’s sakes.

It’s not new. It is not new. My wife and I have a sub-zero refrigerator and the compressor went out. The guy came to fix it. I chat with everybody. Here’s a guy who I would guess is 40, 45 years old. He has a little utility company that helps do appliances, six people. He had just gotten back from a two-week training course that he had paid for out of his own pocket on the Internet of Things. You know, when refrigerators start ordering your stuff for you.

I think he’s gonna survive, and I think he’s gonna thrive. I think there’s a good chance that his six-person company will be a 16-person company. I am incredibly optimistic about people like that.

This is an era of rapid change, and Swisher’s podcasts have focused heavily on the world of work. Peters contends that being dedicated to reeducation means survival. It sounds drastic, but is it? 

How many things have changed in your job since you started 5 years ago, 10? If you just started, what do you think your occupation will look like in 5 years, 10?

Different? Yes. Radically different. Very possible.

Online or in class

My degrees are in English, but a good chunk of my work is in print and web design. To bolster my career, I earned a design certificate from The Pennsylvania College of Art and Design about a decade ago. I’ve taken classes there ever since for both professional development and for personal growth.

I also use Lynda.com, Skillshare.com, and Coursera.org for access to specialty courses, world class instructors, and general training.  They’re great resources and very affordable. Lynda and Skillshare have low introductory offers. Some Coursera courses are available to audit for free. 

Classes can also bring about interesting changes in perspective that enrich your life outside work. I’ve written about a Buddhism and Psychology Class that helped me think differently about the world of stuff. 

In some ways, it’s never been a better time to need a constant education because the resources are available and plentiful. Choose carefully. Get recommendations from others, and fire up that web browser or get thee to a classroom. You’ll be glad you did.

My completed courses at Coursera.org. I’ve used this site for both professional and personal development. 

Schmaltzy

My mom called last Sunday. She got the self-portraits I sent for their 45th wedding anniversary. She cut her trip to the Oregon Coast short so she could say goodbye to her dad. “The pictures were a really nice surprise. Thanks for that.”

My mom’s parents are divorced. They separated when she was 12, and her dad moved to Idaho. We’d get to know him really well only when we moved there…when I was 7 and my brother was 5. He and his lady, Doloras, had a lovely split level home with a pool in the old part of Boise. We spent hours in that pool. Hours. We lived within walking distance. I used a lifetime’s worth of pool time up in those five years.

My brother, Eric, is named after my grandfather, who was the youngest of four children born to Paul and Elizabeth, German immigrants from Dresden and Singen respectively. They would meet in Chicago.

Their third child, Billy, died as a two-year old when he chocked on a chicken bone at a family picnic. We’d take my great grandmother to visit his grave in Pottstown regularly when I was a kid, and my mother and I would find a locket of his blonde hair when we cleaned out her dresser after she died.

Eric was born soon after. 

All three boys were entrepreneurs. My grandfather owned a repair shop that fixed outboard motors and propellers. His first employee, Mark, bought the business when he retired. He was a gregarious and easy-going business owner who would take a boat or car in trade for work completed. His shop was always full of interesting things — motorcycles, classic cars, a commercial-grade rotisserie.

He liked to eat and drink and entertain, and his waistline showed it. His older brother Woo called him “Schmaltzy.” He was the kind of person utterly unbothered by such a nickname.

My grandfather was one of the few relatives that frequently came to visit Jeff and I in PA. He stayed at our house and always slept on the couch even though we offered him a bed. He’d watch tv all night and nap with his computer in front of him on the coffee table. He was an early adopter of technology and left three laptops behind.

My mom said a year ago that his heart was failing. The family in Idaho was tag-teaming to take him to his doctor’s appointments — my brother even showing up for one in a pickup truck filled with his goats.

My mom said she had a nice conversation with him just before he passed. He told her he knew he wasn’t leaving the hospital, and he didn’t. He went quickly but with time for a kind word for everyone who visited. You can’t really ask for more.

Anniversary Photo

My parents will celebrate their 45th Wedding Anniversary later this month. I took some photos for them, so they would replace their photos of me at 18. 

Photo Shoot Day
Tools used: A Canon 5D Mark II, 16-35mm f2.8 Canon lens, two Canon speedlites, Pocket Wizards, a tripod, a light stand, an umbrella.

Auto DIY

I work in marketing, and I’m fortunate to really enjoy working with our entire team. One individual who handles smaller accounts and ingredients came to us from a pharmaceutical company that closed nearby. Her name is Casey, and her background is in agronomy.

She’s a very good sales person – organized, empathetic, and quietly awesome. She also has the best DIY mentality I’ve ever seen. She lives in the southern part of the county in a rural area, buys from thrift stores, and does her own car repair. She’s a 20-something that can drive a manual transmission. What’s not to like?

She told me recently that her boyfriend has the same attitude. His ancient Jeep died on the way home recently, and he found a late 80s Mustang on Craig’s list that night that he hauled home to fix. She showed me a photo, and the car was in great shape for the year. My brother owned one just like it in the 90s. It needed just a few things to make it road worthy, which gave them both time to get the Jeep back on the road.

I admire her a great deal, and I admire her attitude and talent which gives her the confidence to dig in to any project.

 

Old Clothes and Their Essence

I recently completed Buddhism and Modern Psychology by Professor Robert Wright on Coursera.org. In the supplemental material, one of the video lecturers was one between Wright and Paul Bloom on Bloom’s book How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like.

In it, Bloom talked about the essence of things. From a review of the book: “What matters most is not the world as it appears to our senses. Rather, the enjoyment we get from something derives from what we think the thing is.” Bloom argues that at the root of pleasure is our reading (or misreading) of the essence of something rather than the facts presented to our senses. 

Like Wright, Bloom traces the origin of essence to natural selection. “We have evolved essentialism to help us make sense of the world, but now that we have it. It pushes our desires in directions that have nothing to do with survival and reproduction.”

Bloom argues that we endow everything including people and items with an essence that gives them a value. This is why a tape measured owned by JFK has more value than the humbleness of the object would suggest. It’s value is inherent in who owned it. It’s essence.

Essence works both ways. Bloom argues that clothing and other items owned by regular people have less value. They are herein tainted by being used.

I think Bloom’s argument is a intriguing one, and I find a lot to relate to. I’ve noticed that used items have far less market value when buying clothing at thrift stores and on eBay. Clothing of all types goes for a fraction of its retail value. Even unique pieces can usually be found with enough patience, and their value as determined by the market is far under retail. If you’re concerned about essence, then, by all means, buy things that have never been used. If you’re not, just wash them, and they’ll be yours.

 

 

Coaching from a Spouse

Despite sharing the same rank for a season, my husband is a better tennis player than I am. He played sports in high school. I did not. We both work hard on our games, but I think he has the edge. He’s a wonderful student of the game. He watches videos. He reads books.

So when I decided to put much more effort into my game, I had to decide to give up on that ego and take his instruction. He’s not one to compliment anyone, and I’m historically someone who needs a little encouragement. I had to put that aside, and I did. I’ve been working on growing as a person, and taking advice and criticism is a big part of that growth. It’s not personal. Keep repeating that. It’s true.

Part of my commitment to getting a better game is just playing more matches. There is always a flutter of nervousness for me in a match. Always. I thought playing more could take that edge off, and it has. I committed to three teams and a night class this winter, and in retrospect, that was probably a lot. I struggled mightily on one team in particular, and Jeff asked to come watch.

My partner and I won, but it was kind of ugly. Afterwards, Jeff had an hour discourse on what I did wrong. One of the last things he said was, “your knees weren’t bent. You weren’t ready to move. In fact, no one on that court was ready to move. If you just do that, you’ll be better than 90% of the people out there.”

A lot of what he said clicked, but the knee bend stuck like a barnacle. Playing with your quads engaged will leave you with burning outer thighs, so I upped my yoga practice to compensate. The knee bend and ready position has the side benefit of giving me something to focus on.  The improved concentration has also helped my game.

Sometimes we overlook the expertise of those close to us. We shouldn’t. It’s wonderful to have a personal coach and hitting partner with the kind of availability only a pro could dream about. As my game gets better, I’ve given back in the form of suggested drills and my own observations. We were 2-2 for the fall season, which isn’t too shabby. I see more great play in our future.

The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants

I left work early today to pick up a job and a few things for an upcoming event. As I was coming out of the first stop with purchase in hand, a guy pulled in and said, “Hey, you passed me on the highway.”

Despite having a 225 hp turbo under the hood, I drive like a much older person driving a much lesser car. Really. So, I knew I wasn’t a jerk to him.

He continued, “What year is that car?” When I told him, he just stared at it. “I was going to buy one of those, but I got into an argument with the dealer over cruise control. I bought a Civic instead.” He was driving a Honda but not a Civic.

“It’s my favorite car I’ve ever owned,” I noted.

“Yeah, I bet if I bought that, I would still own it too. Have a good day.”

Sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants. Don’t let a petty argument get in the way of a great ride.

Baby Cow Yoga

I’ve been blessed with amazing health in my life, and until I was about 25, I didn’t even work out. When I met my husband, who is 10 years older, he worked out every night after work. I had few hobbies at 25, so I started working out too. I started by running and moved to tennis a few years later when friends of ours wanted to play.

I started tennis with a trampoline racquet that was a hand me down from my husband. I didn’t have the right shoes. A lifetime of avoiding athletics made me a poor athlete with an angry mindset. I didn’t know how to relax. I threw racquets. I had no money for lessons, but I kept playing. I supplemented my tennis with yoga and weights using DVDs I picked up online.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m a regular in a social match at our favorite club. I play USTA matches and advanced to a national championship with my husband a few years ago. I now take lessons. I no longer throw racquets. I smile on court. I’ve turned myself into a competent tennis player.

However, all last spring, I was coming off court with tight achilles tendons. I knew I needed to add yoga back into my regular workout, and I started working out with Rodney Yee DVDs that I stored on my hard drive. I do one particular practice religiously. Nearly every night and some mornings.

What is great about yoga is the gentle progress you make. Do the same workout every day like I do, and you’ll notice changes quickly.

My one downside is that my favorite dog can’t join me. While she follows me like a shadow, she chews the mat, bites my ears, and pulls my hair anytime my head nears the floor during a practice. I started distracting her with toys and only locking her out of the room as a last resort. Gradually, she played along until just this week I could complete a practice until she collapsed near my head to chew my ear during final relaxation.

Rather than get annoyed, I pulled her onto my chest and just listened to her breathing as I enjoyed corpse pose. It was a modification but a welcome one. It reminded me of my early playing days and the unrealistic expectations I set for myself after picking up a racquet for the first time. I expected her to relax as I set about contorting my body for 30 minutes. It was a high bar.

All good things come with effort and patience. She’ll join me more often and for longer periods until my machinations no longer trouble her. Patience. Kindness. They’re the keys to everything.

Baby Cow
Baby Cow in Child’s Pose