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? 

Construction Continues

My neighbor Al died in April. I’ve written about his passing here and here for those who want the backstory.

In short, Al was a great neighbor who diligently took care of his home, but he never updated it. As in never. 

One day last week, I caught the painter Lenny leaving the house, which is now a full on construction site with variable hours.  He said, “Did you know this house hasn’t been painted since the ’80s? I mean it has to be that old. It’s oil-based paint. No one uses that inside anymore. I have to cover it just to get started.”

The new owners did much of the initial demolition themselves with the hopes of moving in by early November, when their lease was up. 

But the thing about a reno is, where do you stop? 

They started with the easy decisions. The galley kitchen with the 80s cabinets and appliances has got to go. Out came the wall. 

The ceilings were next. There were stapled ceilings all over the house. In every goddamn room. What is a stapled ceiling? I’m glad you asked. It’s an ugly ceiling. According to my contractor dad, they were popular in the ’70s as a way to cover up plaster cracks and water damage. “Popular in the ’70s” is all you need to know, right?

Moving on.  

Next came all new electricity, which is wise, and by mid-October they were onto the bathroom. It’s small, but when we renovated, we left the footprint and layout. They changed things up by reorienting the tub, which probably pushed things back a bit.

By early November, the central air was in, but the new owner said he was keeping the radiant heat, another wise move because radiators rock. Best. Heat. Evah.

Mid-November brought a lull, but the contractor was back on Thanksgiving morning to finish up a bit. 

Enter painter Lenny. As far as I can tell, he’s been at it at various times and on various days for about three weeks now. I look in the window and see little change. That oil paint must be a bitch.

Carnage on the back porch

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.

Bulletproof

It’s been a year of change at my job, and at some point, one of our executives came by and told me that the door was open if I needed a dose of radical honesty. I appreciated that and indicated as much. “You strike me as the kind of person that empties your bucket for other people.”

Yes. I. Do.

If you project enough concern for others, eventually people will feel confident that your well of goodwill is an underground spring that never runs dry.

Mine does, but I don’t often show it.

As an introvert, I fill myself with alone time. When the bucket is running really dry, I hole up in my house like a shut in. I paint. I fix things. I wear giant headphones. I fill my day with tasks. I cross things off my many lists. I’m short with those close to me since those begging for my energy are not around. I hate this, but it passes.

I envy those who seem to have a bottomless well; although, I imagine they’re needful as well. We all are. 

The View from My Neighborhood, Week of Sept 24 edition

Nextdoor.com

“As I was posting some free furniture, I saw a number of posts of pets for free. This made me feel uncomfortable. Hope if people are looking for a good home, they can reach out to some of the local adoption folks, like Lost Paws or PAWS, both of which operate out of the local Pet Smarts. They do a very good vetting process to make sure pets are going to a good home.”

“Looking for the owner of a Siamese type light fur cat. I was informed by a neighbor that it was hit and killed by an unknown vehicle on Oak Lane on the North side of Columbia Avenue. Happened today, not sure if it is still there. If you know the owner or are the owner, sorry for your loss.”

“My name is Timmy and I’m looking to walk any dog at any time. I’ll also make sure to do a great job!👍”

New Construction

This is my garage. This is my house. The Amish crew builds it on weekends.

House that is all garage

Renovation

Work begins at my neighbor’s house.

This house on State Street burnt in April of 2017. It’s slowly coming back to life. This is the current iteration.

Burnt house is slowly coming back to life

Kindness

This house on Marietta Avenue constantly displays this sign offering free water for thirsty horses passing by. 

Water for Horses sign at house on Marietta Ave.

Anticipation

Rosa Rosa is a beloved pizza place on the corner of State and Harrisburg Pike. It burnt in November 2016. It is scheduled to open next month.

Rosa Rosa reopens November 2018

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.

Disappear

I’ve written about my attached neighbor, Al, here. The short version is that he left this earth in early June in the same week and in the same manner as Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. I watched the coroner carry his body bag out of the house with the help of a young funeral home aid dressed entirely in black. 

The house fell to his cousin and an aunt, who alternated between bewildered, angry, and ashamed at the acquisition. They hired an auction company, which was a wise choice as the house was filled to the rafters.

Al’s father, a veteran, died the year prior, and Al hauled what seemed like all his father’s possessions into his house usually at night when he wouldn’t be questioned. Occasionally, he’d show me a war memento — a photo of a beautiful Japanese woman, an old newspaper, a medal. “Those are worth keeping,” I told him. He must have thought I meant everything.

July 4th weekend is State Street Garage Sale Day in our neighborhood. It’s legendary. Al hatched a plan to sell some of the things he acquired. “Can you help me put them in the yard?”

Sure thing.

“You can’t keep everything. You know that, right?”

He sold quite a few things that day — mostly fishing and hunting gear — a few outboard motor parts and tools. The spread extended into my yard and included an alcove in one of his cars, which was parked on the street. The four battered hardwood school chairs with attached desks didn’t sell. “Can you believe that?”

Yes. Yes, I can.

He never made it to the next garage sale day, and the stuff clearly never moved. When the auctioneer showed me the house, I felt the walls close in while I wandered around and nervously ran my mouth — his house a hoarder’s mirror image of my own.

The only room that was orderly was the basement. He liked to fix things, and all his tools had their place on the wall. Bars extended from the beams carried neatly hung hip waders and Carhartt jackets. This was the stuff that was clearly his.

Neighbor Dawn told me that Al felt alone in this world without his dad. Clearly the concept of impermanence had no place in that house as he carried the past around like a Sherpa. Everything fixed to a point in time.

When the bidding was going on, I asked about a lot number for the wind chime on the front porch. The family gave it to me. I put it in a side porch I intend to renovate soon. The partially screened walls mean no wind hits it. Unlike when it was his, I never hear it now. This week, the auction company finally hauled his two boats out of the back yard and erased the last daily reminder of him.

Al's house on State Street
Al’s house