Saturday, October 9, 2010

Salmon Glacier

This is the Salmon Glacier. It is located in Northwestern Canada, at the border of British Columbia and the southern tip of the Alaska panhandle. I believe that it is the largest glacier in North America that is accessible by road. I was there this summer and took this photograph.

This week I had a horrible week at work. Nothing bad actually happened except that we were short-staffed, which meant that I was not able to progress much on some big projects that have looming deadlines. However, it suddenly became clear this week that a problem that has been developing for a long time is about to become acute in the next week or two, and it is likely to have very negative implications for the whole workplace.

I am the boss, and for me the week was horrible because I wasn't able to think of a solution to the problem. Yet I could clearly visualize what an impact this problem is going to have on all my colleagues and staff in the workplace. It is a realistic concern as we experienced a similar problem a few years ago, and the result was anger, inefficiency, despair, burnout, and resignations. Also, I worked so hard that time to try to hold things together, get us through the problem, and find solutions that I almost lost my health. I don't want to go through all that again.

I worried myself sick about this problem all week. I could hardly sleep. I talked the problem over separately with two of my closest friends, both of whom are managers of similar organizations. I vented, and they vented to me about their workplace problems, but we didn't really come up with constructive suggestions for each other. I also discussed it with my boss, who listened sympathetically, and we discussed temporary fixes that might help us through the worst of the crisis. But he couldn't come up with any long term solutions either that would address the source of the problem. It is systemic and pervades the whole larger institution.

I played out all kinds of scenarios, and outlined action plans. In my adrenalin fueled exhaustion and anxiety, I was on an emotional roller coaster -- sometimes jolly and encouraging, sometimes grumpy and despairing, and sometimes accusatory towards administrators who should have been helping but seemed to be doing nothing. By Friday afternoon, I had worked myself into such a state that I spoke shrilly to my boss, and critically to one of the other administrators who is usually quite helpful.

I might have alienated them. That certainly hasn't helped solve the problem. By working myself into such a state of worry and responding so emotionally, I have become part of the problem.

Looking at the photos that I took during my travels this summer has helped me step back from the problem a little. Look at the Salmon Glacier, so huge and spectacular. My tiny little problem in a tiny little organization in a tiny little city is only temporary. It is small compared to the Salmon Glacier. If I can see nothing but my small temporary problem, I won't see the Salmon Glacier. And you know what -- it isn't even my problem. Someone else is responsible for the decisions that have led to it. All I can do is identify the problem to my superiors, and do the best that I can to mitigate its effects on my staff. After that, I need to walk away from it, and go home and enjoy my family. And, I need to take time to lift up my eyes and see the Salmon Glacier.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Distant Storm

I love this artist, Toni Grote! This one is called "Distant Storm." Check out her website. She posts a new painting almost every day.

Monday, October 4, 2010

National Novel Writing Month 2010

November 1-30 is NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month -- and I'm starting to get excited. Yesterday I went and peeked at the site and signed myself in for 2010. I'll have 30 days to write a 50,000 word novel.

I participated for the first time in 2007 (a year in which I had a reduced workload) and achieved the 50,000 word goal. Although I had a novel in progress, about 60 pages long at that time, instead of completing it I started writing a new novel. The new one wasn't an entirely new idea. It built on four linked short stories that I had written a couple of years earlier. In NaNoWriMo 2008 and 2009, I continued working on the novel started in 2007, and by the end of November 2009, I more or less had a rough draft of about 120,000 words.

The title of the novel is Memories of a White Girl. In it, I play around with the notion of memoir, and with the role that family and friends play in shaping the adult self. I explore the seductive hold of small community home towns, and their dual nature: deeply familiar yet strangely odd; both exclusive and inclusive; embracing and rejecting; the place you run from and the place you run back to. I touch on the collective making of racism and how racist attitudes become woven, unseen, into everyday practices.

Over this past year, I have done a little rewriting and revision. Memories still needs a little more. But for NaNo this year, I'm embarking on a new project, and the thought of it has me all fired up.

It's almost November. That gives me permission to ignore many of my obligations and write. (Then I'll spend months afterward trying to make up for it!)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In Quest of a Balanced Life

Like so many other people, most I suppose, I strive for a balanced life. Yet sometimes that quest seems to take the form of simply adding more things to my already crowded "to do" list.

For example, here is a list of things that I do (or try to do) every day:

- exercise
- eat 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables
- cook a healthy dinner and sit down with my family to eat it
- tell my partner that I love him
- give my teenage son a hug
- drink a glass of milk
- drink 8 or more glasses of nonalcoholic beverages a day
- brush my teeth at least twice
- floss my teeth
- observe nature: the quality of the light, the pattern of leaves against the sky, the reflections in a puddle
- do one extra task, aside from the daily ones
- read something not work related
- talk with a distant friend or family member
- take a multivitamin
- take a calcium pill
- compost organic waste
- cuddle, pet, and give attention to the pets
- listen to or read the news
- take some time to daydream or muse
- write, or think about writing (writing emails related to work doesn't count!)
- spend time with my partner
- spend some time outdoors

Along with the daily things, there are the bigger goals, principles, and seasonal activities and weekly regular activities that are really too numerous to list, but here are some examples:

- grow, harvest, cook, and preserve my own organic fruits and vegetables
- play indoor soccer (twice weekly in season)
- ski (weekly in winter)
- journal (various types, including this blog)
- reflect on experiences and life goals, and plan for the future
- manage my finances in a planful way
- cook from scratch
- spend time with friends; e.g., host dinners
- spend time with my kids
- donate to worthy causes
- make "green" choices
- travel

And, in order to accomplish any of this, there are some things that I try not to do, or at least severely curtail the amount of time that I spend doing them:

- watch TV
- go to bars
- work overtime
- shop (aside from groceries)
- wait (in cars, airports, or doctors' offices; if I have to, I bring stuff to do and multitask)
- turn on background noise
- commute
- eat fast food
- use combustion engines (I do use them; I'm just trying to use them less)
- attend events that do not interest me because of a sense of obligation or politeness

I believe that the main reason that having a balanced life is so hard to achieve is that I work, and my work greedily eats up much of my time every day. Even when I am not at work, the problems of work intrude on my thoughts and use up my thinking time.

You probably have noticed that none of the things I am trying to do to be more balanced are work things. Work is what I am trying to balance against. Right now it tips the scales heavily in its own favour. It is not that I don't value my work. I do, and I'm very committed. It's just that work takes more than its share; it uses me up.

I wonder if I would have mental lists like this if I were retired? Maybe my life would automatically become balanced without work to use up so much of my time. Or maybe I would still have the same lists, only I would be balancing against sloth and ennui rather than work!

The photo was taken at Boya Lake Park, British Columbia, Canada, near the border with the Yukon Territory. Getting away on holidays is a wonderful way to re-balance.