Saturday, November 28, 2009

Creative entrepreneurship

Walking through the RV park yesterday late afternoon I noticed an older couple sitting outside their rig. He was carving wooden figures and his wife was painting what he carved. Sucking on a cold Corona as the knife glides over the soft wood - schlick, shclick, schlick, he shapes the next wooden figure, no doubt playing out their stories in his mind as each one takes shape.

They are working on what looks to be a nativity scene, appropriate now that it's the day after Thanksgiving. Beneath the table where his wife is painting each figure is a large family of wooden animals, sitting proud. And on the chair next to her, just hanging out, is a fat and happy orange tabby cat, who barely raises her head as the dogs and I walk past.

What I loved about this brief snapshot of their life is not only their ease and comfort with each other, but their shared creations. RV parks are great for this. Life on the road brings out the resourcefulness and creativity in people. I've seen more homemade tools, gadgets and gizmos made by RVers than you find at most street fairs. And I've learned to grab them when I see them, because like the people who make them, they are always one of a kind.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Do you ever wonder ... what will be the point?

The Point
What will be when I am gone
That wasn't before I was?
What am I that never was
Before I walked this land?
A feeling, a sense, a smell my own
A symbol to be discovered?
What will be the point to this life I lead
When I am dead and gone?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day - the best day of the year in America

Thanksgiving Day 2009, 7:15am. I'm walking the dogs to the dog run in the RV park and already the festivities have begun. An older couple, in their 70s maybe, walked out from the pool and restroom building just behind the dog run. She has a large measuring bowl in her hand, and what looks to be a small bag of flour. My guess is the makings of her Thanksgiving gravy.

"Good morning," she says, as Isabelle and I pass by on our way to the run, "and Happy Thanksgiving," she follows up with a broad smile, as her husband tips his hat to me. Thanksgiving Day in America is the best day of the year. Less pressure than Christmas and all about family and friends.

The first year were were living here over Thanksgiving we were surprised by how many of our American friends called us throughout the day to wish us Happy Thanksgiving. By year two we had caught on to the tradition, and had our call list all figured out. This is a day full of tradition, and one that truly brings out the best spirit in everyone.

Families do what they can to travel to get together, much more than we do in Canada. And families expand on this day as well, to include neighbors, "orphan" friends and anyone who needs a place to feel loved and cared for. It is something special.

Today in Emerald Desert RV Resort groups of RVers will get together to share tradition and celebrate. They will pull their chairs together in a circle, and others from surrounding sites will pull theirs over. The hosts will likely provide the turkey - I saw a couple deep fryers ready for action outside some big rigs this morning. And the guests will bring yams, salads, vegetable dishes and of course pumpkin pie. There will be wine and laughter and stories.

It's now 7:45am, and Pam is relaxing on the couch, croqueting a scarf for Sarah for Christmas. The dogs have settled in for the morning, on the other couch, the brown donut dog bed, and Olivia, right by my feet. The cats are in their beds on the wide dash, cleaning themselves and watching bugs fly by. I'm enjoying a cup of Thanksgiving Blend coffee.

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade starts at 9:00am, from NYC. Then there will be football games all day long. This year we're told the networks are breaking with tradition and airing a third game in the afternoon. Usually there are only two.

Later this morning we will take a walk through the park and watch people setting up their dinners. There are decorations out at some rigs, and extra chairs put out, evidence of more friends and family expected to arrive throughout the day.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It's our community - we are ONE, 2, 3 family of riders.

Today was our monthly Star Chapter 123 ride (a group of mainly Yamaha cruiser riders who get together and ride the back country of San Diego and Riverside counties). It was the chapter ride where we needed to nominate candidates to stand for 2010 President. We have the best president ever, in Don Davis, and every year when it's time to nominate candidates for the position our Vice President, Steve Thompson (also the best VP ever) sets the stage with a comment that usually goes something like, "Anyone who wants to nominate someone other than Don for president needs to get by me first". If you knew Steve, you would appreciate what a super friendly, easy going guy he is, even with his strength, size, and position as a police detective. He's only kidding about the threat, but he's not really kidding when it comes to his desire to keep Don where he is.

I didn't ride today, recent surgery meant I followed along in the sports car at the back of the line of 30 bikes. This was an incredible view, watching the harmony and flow of 30 bikes with great riders in formation winding around the twisty roads, and up and down the hills as we crossed canyons. Zen for sure, until I got separated at a light from the string of bikes and had no idea where they'd gone. Our fearless tail gunners Tim and Julie pulled over and waited until I caught up, then we headed on. They have a tough job, along with our other tail gunners Yosi and Maryanne, Roy, and Judy, blocking traffic when we pull out of a gas stop so 30 bikes can head out together safely, and when someone has trouble or falls back, it's their job to stay with them and work things out. Today it was their job to keep their eyes out for a straggling 350Z!

Perhaps it was because I wasn't actually riding today, so I was slightly removed from it all, but I observed a quiet calm leadership, and a rhythm to the unwritten and unspoken rules of our road. Don sets the rules and this large group, family really, follows them with ease. He is calm, firm, and clear. No apologies, it just is. Whether it's who holds other positions like Treasurer, Secretary, and his trusted VP, or who will shepherd first time riders. Our group is so large now that 30 bikes are hard to get out of the city and onto the open country roads. As Don explained his new thinking of splitting us into 2 groups for the first leg of the ride, no one flinched. He made it clear that in Star 123 there are no cliques - we are ONE, 2, 3 - ONE group, ONE family.

And we are.
There could have been jockeying for position, or sideways glances. Not in 123. It's just the way it is going to be, stated calmly and clearly. We have a group as diverse as the human race itself I am sure - police, teachers, fire fighters, a rocket scientist, nurses, business owners, engineers, legal aid workers, custom bike accessory sales managers, military (enlisted and retired) from all branches, including a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the US Marines, but when it comes to leadership everyone is clear about the rules of our road. No one pulls rank. No one throws 'tude or plays politics.

Maybe it's the throaty purr of the engines on the bikes we ride, or maybe it's just that everyone is thankful for each other's friendship and community. Whatever it is, we all know at the start of the day, or after a stop on the way, when Don picks up his helmet and walks toward his bike, not a word spoken, it's time to ride. Tail gunners hold firm in their position, and we pull out in formation and head on down the road.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The beauty and fear of enthusiasm

Have you noticed there are people in life who just seem to be born enthusiastic? Their energy and passion is on the surface in everything they do. Being in their space is invigorating. They smile a lot, they laugh, and they don't take themselves too seriously, usually. Pure beautiful enthusiasm can seem like a lens they look through to see the world. If they let it be pure.

Enthusiasm never opposes. It is not confrontational. It's activity doesn't create winners and losers. It's based on inclusion not exclusion of others. That's the beauty!

But there is a fear that I've experienced sometimes making itself visible and destructively powerful in the face of enthusiasm. For some maybe it's the fear of being too slow. Or of looking stupid, or of not understanding the source of the enthusiasm. Or the fear of being swept up then left behind in it. Fear is ego, it takes and makes everything personally, which means emotion arises, defensiveness, wanting.

Egoic wanting creates opposition in direct proportion to the intensity of its wanting. Whatever harmed us, whatever we miss, or lack. For some of us its bigger than others. And so is the opposition.

The ego's wanting tries to take from something or someone. Enthusiasm gives of its abundance. Enthusiasm never opposes.

Am I sounding cryptic? Preachy? Metaphysical? Yes.

What I am is really thankful for is the enthusiasm in me. I share this simply to honor that and fill the well back up. And to remind myself to stay alert and aware to the many human foibles we all carry, to have patience, empathy and when things get cloudy ... take out the cleaning cloth and wipe off the lens!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Design is being democtraized

I read a quote from star designer Karim Rasid that went like this: "Design is being democratized. Our entire physical landscape has improved and that makes people more critical as an audience." If that is true, and I believe it is, then how does a car like this one - the Nissan Cube - make it off the production line?


An asymmetrical spin on the "toaster" that is Toyota's Scion, it's as crazy as the juxtaposition of the Eiffel tower with a temple in Kyoto don't you think?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Keep to yourself, or break your "flow"?

Some of you responded to my previous post that you were better able to engage with strangers when in a positive mood. Someone else said they didn't think they were that good at it, and someone said they couldn't do it if they didn't have time. I think that's it - we are perennially out of time, or at least we have convinced ourselves that our time is better spent taking care of business or doing something else.

Again Beth, thank you for the question and the fodder for further discussion:
“Where and when did it become so important to keep to one’s self? When did all strangers become bad?”

When life got busier and more complex for most of us, and we are unaccustomed to the stresses it creates. The promise of technology freeing us and creating more leisure time has not happened. People are impatient, stressed out, forever multi-tasking and left with little time to enjoy others around them. It’s all true, and it’s reality today, but people, turn it off! Flip the switch and give yourself a break and some space to connect with the person beside you.

Today in the grocery store I watched a young mother with her two boys, one was probably three, and his younger brother was maybe just two and having a melt down at the yogurt fridge. As he was melting down she was saying, “Time out. You are having a time out,” and she was sending a text message on her iPhone at the same time, really only 1/3 paying attention to her hysterical son. I arrived too late to see the precipitating incident but I did see him slapping her iPhone and yelling “No Mommy.” Who knows if he was mad because she was ignoring him or some other reason.

Then I got to the check-out stand and the man behind me was having a conversation on his cell phone, ignoring the person behind him who was straining to reach past him to grab the latest issue of Time magazine. Ironic I thought.

There is no down time.
We are on the go constantly. We “short cut” with friends we know well when telling stories, and don’t have the patience for those who can’t keep up. I do it, and I see it everywhere.
If I’m in line at the store on a stop on the way home I don’t want to be “interrupted” by having to converse with the person behind me. I just want to grab my bag of cat litter and head home. God help the slow driver in the parking lot making the 3-point turn to get into a spot if they are behind me when I’m ready to leave!

Strangers have become “bad” perhaps because they get in the way of our flow. And we’ve let our flow become paramount – arrogant almost, and anything that interrupts it is a nuisance to be avoided. I even see it in the coffee room at work and that makes me very sad.

We can learn a lot by interrupting our own flow and getting into someone else’s. I made up a customer service game a couple years back that I named “Walk in their shoes”. I found pictures of tons of different types of shoes, cut them out and laminated them into cards, then challenged members of our front line teams to grab a card blindly and create a story about the person whose shoes they were, then get into character and “live” that story. The other members of the team had to stay open, flexible and accepting, ready to deal with whatever the story was the person “wearing the shoes” brought in that day. It was amazing how hard it was to get outside our own preconceived space, and in this case a “script” to really listen, and engage with another person’s story.

Take a moment, slow down, and connect with each other. I’m thankful for the things I discover when I do.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Stranger connections - the lost art of being kind for kind's sake alone

My friend Beth posted something on her Facebook page yesterday that went something like, " Why are strangers so surprised when you do something nice?". Great question, but sad. I've started a little experiment of late, I make a point of starting a REAL conversation with people I don't know just because. Not the "how are you?" lame question when you don't really care about the answer. One of my faves is, "How's your day going?". It's revealing to check out the way people respond. Or sometimes, "How's your life?".

I do it when I call restaurants to make reservations, or when I get my coffee at Starbucks. The majority of people have no idea how to answer, and some actually freak a little bit out. But on occasion there will be some who love it, and really want to talk, and engage. From those people I have learned a lot of new things that I would not have otherwise. The sad truth of it is we have lost the art of conversing with people we don't know. I mean real conversing, not the basics that are required to fill an order, reserve a table, or drop off a car for service. Conversation about the world at large, not related to the task at hand.

As the world gets larger, it actually gets smaller if we don't reach out and push our comfort zone, or spend a little extra time connecting with the person next to us. We are losing the opportunity to be exposed to different points of view, or new ways of thinking about life. I do it in line-ups too, and that is the best! The person behind me who I strike up a convo with can't get away. They either love it and we pass the time in ways neither of expected, or they hate it and I am the crazy woman who started talking to them about nothing. Fun!

When I thought about Beth's post yesterday, it took me back to an experience I had earlier this year at a CVS pharmacy, and the collateral damage to people's self esteem this kind of disconnected world we live in can cause. I can't re-create what happened better than just quoting directly from my journal, so here goes:

"Jan. 5, 2009

Tonight at CVS we picked up Pam's Nexium prescription and bought some Christmas ornaments for next year. I saw a security guard that made me sad. She was a white-haired, short, round, overweight woman wearing her jacket with its "American Private Security" with pride. She had on a camo hat, the kind the with fuzzy flaps that come down over the ears. She stood in line in front of us, a one dollar bill in hand to buy a snack pack of fried pork chips.

As she approached the til she spotted a penny on the floor, which she clamped her big boot on and dragged it up to the counter with her. Then she spotted another one, and bent down to pick them both up before heading back outside into the cold night to lean against a lamp post in the parking lot and eat her fried pork chip dinner.

We passed her as we drove away. She dipped her head in a nod to me, then looked away quickly - almost as if she was shielding herself from the painful possibility that I wouldn't acknowledge her back."

How sad. I think it will only continue down this path of disconnectedness, but man oh man it's fun to try and stop the slide.