Voice Recognition

On Thursday night, after a 10-year break, I re-joined my church choir.  

On the way to rehearsal, the butterflies in my stomach were working overtime, and I kept wanting to turn around.  The two years I’d spent in the soprano section in the late aughts had carried some stress, which I now realized was enabled if not initiated by the leader of the group, the former music director.

As a composer, arranger, and performer, he was brilliant; as a manager, he had shortcomings.  The music he composed and/or arranged for us to perform was magnificent, we rehearsed relentlessly, and we sounded great.   But there was always at least one elephant in the room any rehearsal or performance, an elephant unrelated to the reason we were there – to produce choral art.  Sometimes it was internal bickering or drama, sometimes a section lead who would build himself/herself up at the expense of his section, there was often political bickering or sniping (both choir/church politics and bipartisan politics of the usual kind) – none of it was ever acknowledged.  It festered, and from time to time, it caused internal mayhem, division, and loss of members.

He was a perfectionist, which was fine, but he didn’t always correct us softly when we strayed; sometimes he got frustrated and I felt like he thought we deliberately weren’t trying or were being lazy, which was never the case.

As someone without great range, a soft grasp of reading music, and a strong dependence on my section leader and the others in the group to help me contribute my voice to a part (I can only follow, not lead), I often felt like an imposter, a poser, a pretender.  I left for other reasons (increased responsibilities elsewhere) but I left with some relief that I wouldn’t have to feel that way for a voluntary gig again.  

I’d braced myself to deal with some of this stuff this time around.  A decade full of life events and lessons makes a big difference to perspective, so I was optimistic that this time would be different.

And it turns out, I was right. I found no drama, no harshness, and no judgment – only love, laughter, and acceptance. That’s down to leadership.  Our music director is also brilliant and talented, but she leads with humor, humility, compassion, respect, and recognition of the value that each member brings.  And that makes all the difference. I don’t feel judged; I feel that my contributions (even if they aren’t spectacular) have worth, and that I should stick around and keep contributing.

It’s said that people don’t leave jobs – they leave managers.  The flip side is that people treasure jobs or commitments that are well-managed – and they keep coming back.  This has been true for me for the past four years at work, where staff are treated with kindness and respect and their contributions and unique voices recognized.  Now I’m grateful for another commitment to keep coming back to – for compassion, and for recognition of a new voice.

 

 

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Zena the Warrior Princess

Zena is a warrior, a destroyer.  Of toys.  

She’s never met a dog toy she couldn’t kill in 15 minutes or less.  Cheap ones take five minutes – from pristine with the tag just pulled off, to a hollow, gutless shell with a dead squeaker and white fluffy toy guts strewn all over the house.  It’s mayhem on a daily basis, perpetuated by us because there is always a new toy in the closet when an old one dies.  Confession: we enable her toy-a-day habit.  We’re not bankrupt because most of the toys are bought in bulk online or at dollar and discount stores.

For the record, she also loves socks (especially retired ones with squeakers tied in a knot inside, but really any socks will do), and any form of paper but particularly used napkins and Kleenex.

Zena was taught her craft of mayhem by Beggs, the original toy hoarder and killer,  during the first three years of Zena’s life which were also the last three years of Beggs’.

Beggsy in 2010

The problem then was that all the toys in the world belonged to Beggs, in the world according to Beggs.  The word “share” was not in her vocabulary.

Dogs know this already, but Zena was reminded in those years that you have to seize every opportunity and enjoy the time you have with it – both the ones you’re gifted and the ones you have to steal from your big sister.

Beggs with Boo-Boo, the One Toy that Lived

We love our middle child Zee-Zee and her endless capacity for love and play that reminds us when opportunities for love or play appear, grab em’. Give em’ a good shake, and then dig in.

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Community

I’m thankful for my church, the place I go to share my time, talent, labor, and dollars for the good of the community.

It’s a place for shared ideas and embraced differences, open doors and open arms.

It’s a haven for reflection and optimism.

It’s extended family and expanded home.

 

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It’s a Good Thing We Have Humor

When the world gets chaotic and crazy, sometimes the only thing we can do is laugh.  Merchants of chaos hate that worse than anything, as they take themselves dead seriously.

So I read satire and rudely brilliant comics, and I watch spoofs and sitcoms.

The joker and the straight man

I particularly adore and appreciate people who give the world humor as it’s something I myself can’t pull off well.  Occasionally, completely by accident, I will say or do something funny, but I can’t do it on command or when the situation demands it.

So, thank you madly, creators of funny.

 

 

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A Toast to Health

Today I’m appreciative for good health at a level that lets me run.

I’m not fast, and last year I wasn’t at all consistent.  In 2017 I ran twice instead of the four times I’d managed for years up to that point.  I ran the LA Marathon (my 10th) in March and the San Diego Holiday Half Marathon in December.   I told myself that that was enough and that I should save my energy.

The rest of the year I ate more than my share of sweets and refined fake food.

About three weeks ago I finally figured out how to break the bad eating habits and I’m happy to say I’ve lost 5 pounds over the holiday season instead of gaining the usual holiday 5 (hey, does that mean I lost 10 pounds?)

Near the Bunker Hill Drum Line March 2017

These days I use food for fuel instead of comfort and to cater pity parties.  I feel better, I have much more energy, my clothes are starting to fit better, and I find myself looking forward to – instead of dreading – the LA Marathon coming up in March.

Because toenails are overrated.

 

 

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Laughter

I have to keep reminding myself to not take myself too seriously.

The gift of humor is welcome not only during a stressful or underproductive holiday season but all year round, especially in these troubled times.

A few days ago I started down the sometimes thorny path of memories as part of a quest to find what led me here.  I’m doing my best to keep it light and I’m going to keep putting it back through the rinse cycle until I clean off any hint of seriousness, pomposity, or self-aggrandizement.

Sea lions in Ensenada February 2015. Because they can’t help it – they’re just funny.

To live brighter, to love better, we have to laugh more.  Without directing meanness at others, we have to keep seeing the sunny side of situations, how we got ourselves into the pickles in which we find ourselves.  We don’t learn anything from the easy days but from the tough ones; we don’t get better because we reacted angrily.

So, I’m going to smile more, laugh more, see the humor more, because a sunny perspective brings coaxes away the shadows.

 

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Meaningful Work

Today, back to work after the long weekend, I am thankful for the opportunity, the will, and the ability to perform meaningful work every day.

It’s great if you love your job, as I do – that love will carry you through a challenging day, week, or year.   It’s particularly heartwarming to be able to trace the cause (your labor) to the effect (an essential service, a positive difference in lives around you).

Still, no matter what job I’ve had – and some of the work I’ve done has been, er, unusual – every single one has improved lives in some way.  I’ve made a difference; and, here in this country, we all do.  We just can’t help it.

What we do to make a living matters to more people than you and me and our families.  Even if we’re just working for the weekend, we’re still making a difference.

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Digging Out

With a new year here, it’s time to dig past the shock and depression of the political nuclear winter of 2017 by practicing gratitude and embracing greater personal growth.

No matter what else I do, no matter what else I write, I will remain grateful for the many supporting friends and family and the countless blessings I enjoy.

Today I’m particularly thankful that I have this way to express and to share my appreciation for safety, comfort, and support of home; an oasis during times of uncertainty.

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Growth and Gratitude

On New Year’s Eve, here’s my pledge:

To turn my back on self-absorption; and its siblings self-pity and self-indulgence.

To replace selfishness with kindness, curiosity, and – above all – compassion.

To live in the present and to remember to feel and to express gratitude for that present and all it represents.

 

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Bedtime for 2017

This year can’t end soon enough.

I’ve made plans for 2018; and, at least in my world, the coming year looks very different from the one just ending.

It’s a matter of perspective.   I can’t cure the madness if they’re not my monkeys and it’s somebody else’s circus.

If they are my monkeys, it’s my choice:  have fun with them, put them to work, or put them back in their barrel.

Next year’s goals are simple:

Live productively.

Practice gratitude.

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Take your Time

Around the next bend, over the next hill, on the other side of that ridge, or in the bottom of the valley, nature changes a landscape, but not very fast.

It’ll be centuries or millennia before any significant difference is visible, and that’s okay.  It’s fine right now and it’ll be different in its own time.

I say this as someone for whom getting tasks done on time is gospel if not the whole religion.

It’s true that many tasks have to be done right now or they have to be done very soon.  That’s true when later outcomes depend on earlier events and when they’re outcomes that you own.

But other times, even if it’s yours, the run is not  meant to be a sprint; the end game is not the goal.

Or it’s someone else’s path and someone else’s pace.

Change can be glacial, incremental, optional, or undesired. You can’t know and should not judge what lies further down their road.

Take your time. Try not to take theirs.

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Fault Lines

On any team, open lines of communication between its members hold the team together.  A team of 3 has 3 connections; a team of 6 has 15; a team of 12, 66.

What this means is that the larger the team, the more opportunity for communication breakdowns and the bigger the impact on group productivity and individual contribution.

A team really can’t function when communication between even two of its members are fractured, let alone when several team members aren’t really talking to each other or don’t trust each other.

It’s not that different from a complex building whose strength and longevity depends on a framework of beams – each connected to multiple others.  Each, on its own and as part of a network, is crucial to structural integrity.

Or that small crack in a windshield that – left there too long – can shatter with just a small amount of stress.

Or the fault line on which houses will crumble when the pressure becomes too much and The Big One hits.

So if we think that as team members a rift with another is just between him and me or her and me, it isn’t.   The group’s success depends on each of us to get off the fault line and find common ground.

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