Tag Archives: inspiration

intangibles


intangibles noun , cliche used by sports media to describe aspects of a player’s game or personality which cannot be tracked by statistics

Graham

This summer has been the year of the big boy summer camp for my seven year old son. Up until this summer, it was all popsicle sticks, Elmer’s Glue, sprinkler running fun. His past summers were nothing but a haze of happiness. As with all things associated with the passing of age, he was in for a rude but important awakening this summer and now that we’re winding down our August and the boxes full of new navy uniform pants and pique polo shirts collect on my porch in preparation for the upcoming school year, I am reflecting on some of the things we both learned this summer.

A true highlight for everyone this year was Graham’s attendance at the Ed Cooley Providence College Basketball Camp for a week. I remember when he decided that he wanted to go. It was in the midst of a blustery, gray Rhode Island typical winter weekend when we braved the gusts of chilly downtown to make our way to the Dunk to watch the Friars play. My college years were good but hard working years for me so it makes me proud to be able to take my son to these games, a bit of a rewarding light at the end of that tunnel I was in so long ago. At this particular game, they were giving out slips of paper advertising for the camp and Graham instantly told me that he wanted to go. The idea of having access to his basketball idols who were playing that day was something I could tell excited him just as much as Pokemon cards…maybe even a little more. So the next day I enrolled him first thing in the morning.

With much anticipation, the week of Ed Cooley camp arrived and I honestly did not know what to expect. Dan usually handles the sports related things in Graham’s life. I don’t get very much involved. I don’t know enough statistics or follow teams. I’m the mom in the stands type. I don’t need to get involved the way some moms do. The week went well as far as we could tell. Seven year olds don’t tend to be good communicators about details. We knew that no one was passing him the ball (what kid hasn’t had that happen) but he wasn’t a mess and had a relatively good time. Dan was away for work on the last day of camp for the awards ceremony, so I went back to school that day to pick up Graham.

The ceremony was pretty much procedure. Parents standing around awkwardly watching their kids running drills in the gym – the same gym I had spent at least one Midnight Madness inebriated at and several stags watching my roommates cry or fawn after boys for one reason or another. It was a surreal experience for me to say the least…but then it was time for trophies and awards and the interesting thing was that not every kid received one. In fact, some kids received 3 and others none at all. My son was a “none at all” kid and as I watched I wondered to myself how the little dude was going to handle this. This hadn’t happened to him before. A few months before he had been a finalist in the Pinewood Derby and got a much prized trophy at the regionals for Most Spirit while he watched several of his friends cry because they didn’t get one. To my surprise, he didn’t cry…at least not then. He kept a brave face, got his coaches’ assessment sheet, said good bye and we headed to the car. It was right before we exited the glass doors to leave that I could tell all was not right. He hadn’t talked or gushed the way he usually does. So we sat down and I looked at him…and he lost it. I think it was the first time I have seen my son realize that not everything is going to come easy and sometimes, often perhaps, you’re not going to be the best at something.

He recovered quickly after some munchkins and a gift from the PC Bookstore. It really only lasted 5 minutes. And since that breakdown, he plays basketball nearly everyday in our driveway – because he wants to go back to camp next summer and bring home a trophy. But later that evening, when the whole event was done, I went back to look at the assessment that his coach had written about him. Graham’s actual skills weren’t that bad – all told he was probably a B level player, but where he excelled were his “intangibles.” His coach-ability, leadership, effort, teamwork, etc…etc… And this meant a lot more to me than his ability to make a basket – mostly because I am a mom and yes, it would be great if he were some amazing athlete, but I want him to be a good person – the best person. That would make me proudest. As a parent, Dan can teach him the physical stuff and he can practice to get better, but the intangibles are harder to teach – and what will make him successful at whatever he chooses to do in his life.

As someone who has worked in NYC and in crazy, demanding environments, I can tell you this is much is true. I think I was well into my thirties before I understood how important “intangibles” are at work and in life. I’ve had to learn them and am still learning. But there are some people in the world who are born with them – like I suspect my son is. I’ve watched him these 7 years and seen the variety of children he is friends with. He manages completely different personalities on a daily basis and they all claim to be his BFF. He has his moments (he IS 7 years old after all) but in general, it’s all no sweat off his back. And I strive for that pretty much everyday. It’s a hard thing to learn and he has it mastered.

2 weeks ago Graham failed his deep water swim test at Boy Scout Camp. He cried that night and said it was the worst day of his life. 2 days later he went to camp and begged the counselor to take the test again. He passed and played Marco Polo in the 5 foot pool for the rest of the week. Everyday I learn something from my children. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, your children naturally possess abilities and traits that you’ve been trying to learn your whole life and serve as a living example and your best teacher.

There are plenty of trophies I don’t win at work and many of the things I have to accomplish are equivalent to that deep water swim test that my son failed. But next week I’ll show up, without a trophy, splashing in the kiddie pool trying my damned hardest to win them both. And someday, I will.

Thanks Graham. Love Mom.

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calling


calling noun, a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career; a vocation.

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Several weeks ago after a tough few days at work, I started reading The Art of Happiness at Work, by the Dalai Lama. I purchased this book probably close to a decade ago at the Ruben Museum of Art in Manhattan – a regular visit of mine while we lived in Brooklyn. I never read it. It traveled with us from Brooklyn, to Maplewood, and now here, to Cranston – never having been read. The pages yellow but the spine not broken or creased. I started reading without intention or expectation, not much expecting to finish it like so many other books I pick up and leave half read and discarded. However, I did finish it. I read it with a voracity I haven’t felt for reading since I finished the Elena Ferrante series…and I emerged profoundly changed from what I learned.

One of the concepts that the book discusses is calling and how it is important to happiness at work. The book delves into the problem of calling as relates to assembly line workers or people whose work is mainly to earn a pay check – not so much what someone loves or feels an attraction to doing. I am lucky that my job is my professional calling and that I have found it…and ultimately, I really shouldn’t complain or be unhappy. It also forced me to remember the path I took to where I am and the many years I worked at jobs that had no calling.

My very first really job – outside of camp counselor, lifeguard or waitress while in high school – was in a factory soldering circuit boards for 8 hours a day. My father was diagnosed with a stage 4 glioblastoma and underwent brain surgery at Columbia Presbyterian hospital in Manhattan on the day I was supposed to arrive for freshman orientation at Providence College. Neither of my parents attended college. My father enlisted in the navy after graduating from high school and my mother didn’t finish high school. Needless to say, I was stunned, depressed, confused and in need of a job. My father was the sole breadwinner of the household and being somewhat intelligent and 18 years old, it was the only choice.  My aunt was the floor manager at a factory that made Harmonizers – these black boxes that musicians use to distort their guitars to make them sound like Jimmy Hendrix. We went to work every morning together where I reported to my bench and was handed a pile of green Harmonizer motherboards and tiny bags of circuits to solder in the same pattern, over and over again.

Sometimes I would get a different type of board to solder and an engineer would show me the new pattern and the new circuits, but it was mostly the same thing, over and over again. As one can imagine, I quickly grew bored – although a very proficient solderer. I became fast enough that I could get all of my boards soldered in a few hours and would have to go take labels off of RAM chips that came back from aeronautic navigation devices that the company also made. It was in this boredom that I started to appreciate the circuits themselves – their different colors and minuteness. They came in all sorts of attractive striped patterns, almost like glass beads, and I started secretly soldering them together to make bracelets and rings. I will be truthful here. I had no conscious interest in jewelry back then. Even in high school, I had no interest in jewelry, make up or clothes. And I had no passion for jewelry when I was making these odd circuit soldered bracelets. They just sort of happened and I liked making them. Maybe there was something going on subconsciously back then, but I highly doubt it.

I went on to go to college, graduated and worked in finance for years thinking that I was going to take my series classes and become a trader, fulfilling my Melanie Griffith dreams as a Working Girl…but I always knew that wasn’t a calling either. I just wanted to make money and was probably influenced by the thought of a young Harrison Ford in a business suit.

The day I realized my calling was on my first day of work at a small watchband company in Rhode Island. I interviewed for a job as an assistant product manager – not really fully understanding what that was – and got it because I had passed a v lookup and pivot table test when no one else they interviewed could. I spent my entire first day making 80/20 reports for the Director of Marketing and was as happy as a clam. I was surrounded by watches, watchbands and jewelry – and the entire supply chain making it available to customers existed right around my little, fabric paneled cube. It was fascinating and new…and I fell in love with it. I had sent an email to China…CHINA! I was amazed. I went straight home and told my husband that someday this job was going to help me get a job at Tiffany’s (This is not a lie. You can ask him.) …and it ultimately did.

So when it comes to the idea of calling I tend to believe that it’s not such a simple thing. It’s almost a bit like fate or falling in love. You don’t really know when or how it will strike or what the actual calling will be. Now that I think of it, it really is a lot like love. A lot of waiting and searching, patience and perseverance – always with the possibility of ultimate failure. I am very lucky in that I have this career and job that I truly love and have a calling for, but the job itself is not the calling. The calling is that if I lost my job tomorrow, I would still work in jewelry – whether making it myself, reading about it or buying it. It brings me joy – a joy that would not have been found without some tough times, confusion and sorrow along the way. When I remember this, being happy at work is no longer a difficult thing. It is the most natural way to feel that there is.

 

 

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convenience


convenience noun, the state of being able to proceed with something with little effort or difficulty

record player

I’ve been turning over a blog post in my brain for several weeks now and am finally writing these few words down after such a long hiatus from this site. I toyed with the word “analog” after using my old typewriter a few weeks ago for an unrelated project…and then the other morning I was rather peeved on the drive into work so I wanted to write a post about wanting to be Kanye West. Then this morning I was in the shower using a bar of lavender soap and thinking to myself about the pros and cons of shower gel versus bar soap. My brain jumped back to my thoughts about analog and I realized that I didn’t want to write about analog at all. The word I was searching for was convenience…and so here we are. (I still want to write about being Kanye though.)

I’m an odd bird, which you will know if you really get to know me – or just talk to me for an hour over a bottle of wine. I collect antiques and watch a lot of PBS. I paint and sketch. I like, and work, in jewelry but not because I like the glamour but rather because I crave the tradition, process of fabricating and long history of jewelry. I’m addicted to the making of things in general. Sometimes I wonder if I watched the crayon factory video on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood too many times and it created too much of an impression. I appreciate the process, the history and the story behind physical objects – to the point where I can’t sleep some nights because I think about the details of things too much. I haven’t discovered what I am meant to create in this world or what the culmination of my obsessions might be. I’ve been a part of the back story for many things that people purchase and enjoy, but cannot take credit for their entire creation. In a lot of ways, I am a mother to the products I have worked on much in the way I am the mother of my children. I have ushered them through their troubles and tough spots until they have grown into adulthood and landed on Amazon or a store shelf somewhere.  I haven’t decided if that is enough of an accomplishment yet. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. Anyway – I like the time and attention it takes to make a physical thing.

So when I think about the world today and the things we use the theme I most often happen upon is convenience. We use shower gel instead of soap because it’s easier to lather and friendlier than a hard rectangle of lard that you glaze your body with and then rinse off. We type on keyboards now and rarely write in handwriting so much so that schools have ceased to teach cursive or penmanship. Baby food comes in easy to squeeze pouches instead of jars and you can buy entire meals chopped to arrive at your home to make an authentic home cooked dinner easily and fast. We are creatures of convenience. Even as a working mom, I often wonder why we feel the need to save so much time. For more stalking time on Facebook and Instagram, judging by the world’s obsession with social media. We don’t seem to be connecting with people more with all of this time we have gained. Sometimes I think that it’s the greatest marketing ploy of all time – to get us all to think we are too, too busy and that we need all of these things to save us time when what we actually need is to use our time actually doing something. Using our senses or hands or brains instead of focusing on efficiency and convenience.

Some things are greatly lost in this quest for convenience. The process, the details, the work – all of those things that make great things great – are lost in making some things easier. Take oil painting for an example. There is acrylic paint now that dries faster and blends easier than what the great masters used, but there is something lost in that medium when you compare it to traditional oil painting. The color is not as rich and the texture is like plastic – because that is what it is – plastic. Painting in oil requires patience. You can only load so much paint onto a canvas until everything blends and turns brown. You have to thin it with Gamsol – but not too much or you lose the thickness for building it up and creating that impressionistic texture. You have to wait for the first layer to dry to add the second, more accurate and refined attempt. And there is the key – the waiting. In that waiting – in which if you were to try and continue hard headedly to fix the layer you’ve put down you would only make things worse – you learn what you must do that will make the painting good. Because you are forced for days to look at your errors in the shadows and light, in tones, you figure it out. You reach a different perspective and in reaching it are able to approach things in a better more enlightened way. The convenience of the paint drying quickly eliminates the most important element of oil painting – the standing and looking back. The reflection on what you’ve done. The reassessing and having another go at it. That is what makes the painting better.

The record player is another example. I have had one since we purchased our first home in Pawtucket over a decade ago. My husband thought I was crazy when I brought it home from the Homegoods for $50 with an old record of traditional Italian music from the Salvation Army. But once he heard the crackles and pops, the imperfections, the way it sounded bouncing off the walls of our new house, he was hooked as well – more so than me at this point. Now, streaming music is a beautiful thing that I enjoy, especially when listening to very loud Notorious B.I.G. on the way to work on a Monday morning. However, it never makes you listen to an entire album the way a record does. You gain the convenience of hearing any song you want to at any moment, but you don’t get to know that artist in the same way that a record forces you to. For example, Radiohead –the bends. Radiohead is pure genius listened to on any format, but when you listen to it on vinyl and it’s not convenient to skip past your least favorite track, the music becomes a statement that the artist is making rather than a few songs that are great. In the case of the bends, Radiohead creates a mood that is only captured when listened to as an inclusive album.  It changes your perspective on what it was you thought you were liking and captures a rainy day with a beauty that cannot be described with words. It also makes you appreciate how amazing their music really is.

My last example is probably my favorite – the Moleskine notebook. I have for many years, and always will, take my work notes in a Moleskine notebook. I have all of my old ones from my many jobs piled up in the furnace room of our home. Sometimes, when I am struggling to remember why I do what I do or I see something that was a project I worked on at a store or online, I will go down to my stacks and pull an old Moleskine. I almost always remember which one it is in. They are a history of my career. I’ve never been able to journal in a book but can and will only take work notes in one of these durable, black leather books. This blog is the closest I have come to chronicling anything digitally, but my Moleskines record the winding and odd journey of my career from my very first job here in Rhode Island. I find it magical to flip through the pages and remember where I was when I was writing those notes and how my handwriting changes from page to page, year to year. Sometimes there are sketches or other peoples writing – you know those times where your coworker wants to tell you something but has to write it on your page? Sometimes I remember what those comments were about. Other times I can’t remember who wrote them or what they were about, but they are always amusing nevertheless.  All of those moments, thoughts and places are in these black leather books in a way that typing something on a computer will never be. More convenient to type? Of course. But not nearly as important or as special in my life.

I saw that our local bookstore is selling records and the record stores we visit are all bustling with customers where not too long ago I was the only one there. I also saw a Moleskine store at the Short Hills mall during a recent visit. (I’m not so sure about bar soap vs. shower gel as I am still on the fence about that one.) I think that people like convenience and the ease it adds to their life and I do as well.  But I also think that people secretly crave and need something else. They need the experience, time, perspective and manual work that only analog, old things and tradition can offer to fill in the details of life.

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5 Things to Do to Inspire Your Right Brain


5 Things to Do to Inspire Your Right Brain

I was recently featured on a fellow blog called 5 Things to Do Today. Check it out and be inspired!

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beezer


beezer adj. excellent

As you can imagine, I subscribe to the OED online. I bought a small version of the dictionary for $40 and it came with a free subscription. It’s fun to play on the site and today I found a way to look up British / English words. “Beezer” is a British adjective meaning excellent and I just love it because it’s so happy sounding. It really embodies “so very good” in a way that “excellent” doesn’t. Excellent has the connotation of excelling or beating someone or something else. Same thing as outstanding – I feel like it has to be so great that it “out – stands” the rest of everything.

Beezer reminds me of Beezus Quimby from the Beverly Cleary books that I absolutely loved as a kid. She was the next door neighbor of Henry who had the annoying little sister Ramona. However, I think it a bit ironic because Beezus was the wall flower older sister who was out shined by Ramona. So this is probably a bad reference for recalling the meaning of beezer…good books though.

The problem with looking up British words is that when you say them with an American accent they sound completely un charming. I found myself saying beezer with a fake British accent which is pretty sad. But when I said it with my normal accent, it just sounded like some thug frat boy language. Imagine it in a Boston accent – beezah! (I almost want to go to Boston and start a trend.)

Anyway, back to beezer’s counterparts – excellent and outstanding. Does something have to stand out amongst everything or beat out all else to be considered very, very great? Do we decide what is wonderful only through comparison or can something be intrinsically great just because it is – with out reference to something else that has or had existed? I don’t think it can. Which would mean if we are constantly striving for excellence we are in constant competition…and where is the day to day happiness in this?

When I think about an excellent day it doesn’t depend on just one element. To me a beezer moment could be a rainy morning where the Keurig machine spit out an unexpectedly sublime cup of coffee and I enjoyed hearing the raindrops hit the windowpane in such a way that they sound musical. Maybe I picked up a Harpers and flipped to a poem I didn’t expect to find while sipping my coffee and found a new poet that quickly became my favorite. Even on the small scale – even if I am talking about just a beezer 5 minutes – is it not excellent because it was better than the five minutes before? Or the 5 minutes I had at exactly the same time yesterday morning- perhaps it was sunny but my coffee sucked and I stared off into space worrying about what the day beheld…

Today I shall use beezer to humble my competitive nature. Competition is good…great perhaps, but it’s where you set the bar. If you set it high – perhaps someday you will reach the height of beezerness. But what’s the point if the road to get there is miserable and unhappy because you are constantly trying to out do yourself. It could be a century of unhappiness and disappointment before you get to your excellence.

I’ll take my excellence in small doses each day. Minute to minute and hour to hour…and when things get gradually more and more wonderful I’ll have had a beezer journey instead of just one excellent day.

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