An aside for karma yoga

In one of the early drafts of my novel What’s Left, I tried this perspective — which I removed from the final version of the book, feeling it was too preachy:

If our workroom was where we could act honorably under the eye of God, it was still no substitute for times of celebration and worship! No, we need to take time every day for prayer and the study of scripture. Just remember: work spent in activities that help our neighbors and enable us to come together for periods of common delight is quite different from anything I see in the realm of time cards or the Harvard Business School.

~*~

Whew! Let’s try to bring this back to everyday experience.

Is there somebody you encounter someplace during the day who makes you feel special? A coworker, cafe wait person, bus driver, teacher, friend? Do tell us!

Karma yoga, by the way, is explained in my novel Yoga Bootcamp. Work itself gets complicated, no?

~*~

The old church Cassia’s family buys in my novel might have looked like this … before the wild rock concerts begin.

More than the bottom line

Even though I cut this from the final version of my novel What’s Left, it’s still true:

What people need, and this is essential to a proper approach to labor, is balance.

~*~

Two things are going on here, one inside the other, but I’d like to be less confusing.

The first, quite simply, is my belief in what we Quakers call centering. We find our stopping all outwork activity for a time of deep meditation and reflection helps bring us perspective on the other parts of our lives. Add to that moderation and simplicity or focus all leading to a healthy balance of individuality, home, career, community, faith, and so on.

The second touches on attitudes toward labor itself, which quite frankly has been demeaned in modern society. What makes the concept of leisure so exalted? The danger, I suspect, is in overworking — often sucking any joy out of the project at hand.

Think of your job. What could management do to make it more human?

~*~

Classic. Somerville, Massachusetts, just outside Boston.

Their turn is coming up

In my novel What’s Left, her generation of the family will face some crucial decisions that resemble those their parents were charting when her father-to-be showed up in the household.

In a passage I cut from an earlier draft, she wonders:

What would you do?

While Dimitri and Barney have niches in the business, Nita has her chosen career. Tito, meanwhile, will likely have his hands in both the Zap enterprises and an independent law firm.

That leaves Manoula, who hopes to head off in a literary direction, not necessarily as a writer.

~*~

As I’m revisiting this, I’m getting a bit steamed. I realize how little guidance I had regarding my future. We didn’t talk much about it at home, and even college was somehow mostly off the table. The so-called guidance counselor at my large high school was mostly a disciplinary officer and military-draft registrar. College? No help from him!

I got more from the editor of the first newspaper that hired me as an intern. He had a knack for nurturing talent. I just wish he hadn’t retired when he did.

Dimitri seems to possess much of that skill, perhaps even more than Nita. They’d likely ask:

What would you really like to be doing with your life? What do you need from us to help? So what do you really want to do with your life? And what do you need to get there?

~*~

It doesn’t get more Greek than this.

Bewildered by the big real estate bubble

Admittedly, it’s a national problem, but one that’s especially acute here in New England. Home prices are soaring. Wannabe buyers far outnumber sellers.

For once, my wife and I hit this one right.

The place we just bought, as I’ve been saying, is in a remote location, and it needs some work. There are reasons potential buyers passed on it. As one I’ve met reacted, “It was more than my husband and I wanted to take on.” But thanks to our elder daughter, we have a vision, and, as we are finding, the place feels right. Besides, the bones are good. To our surprise, our bargain bid was accepted, so here I am.

And then, the city farm we just sold is in a very hot market. Readers of the Red Barn have been following some of the reasons – small-town pedestrian-friendly scale and New England character combined with proximity to Boston in one direction plus beaches and mountains in the other directions.

We watched as real-estate prices kept rising, buffeted by only one big downturn, and wondered how young couples and families could pay the mortgages. Well, rents were going out of sight, too, as are mobile homes. Around the neighborhood, the running joke was that none of us could afford to buy our own residences at the current prices. Only it wasn’t funny.

Covid, however, ramped all that up. Many people with professional jobs found that in working from home, they can live anywhere – and in working from home, they need a home office.

The real-estate collapse I had expected didn’t happen, thanks to the federal stimulus checks, extended unemployment compensation, and anti-eviction laws. Not to say there won’t be a delayed reaction.

Still, with Covid limiting a lot of ways to spend money – dining out, movies, travel, athletic events, concerts and theaters, for starters – there may be a lot of cash in reserve. Who knows if that’s a factor.

We had nine bids in five days, all above our asking price. Some were accompanied by love letters, even an excellent loaf of homemade bread, and selecting just one from that array was difficult. As was the disappointment of those who wondered what they’d done wrong.

Some of the push is coming from people from other parts of the country, who are buying sight-unseen, like the Texans with two Mercedes whose bid for a smaller property down the street was $65,000 more than the original asking price. That had a positive influence on our own property when it officially went on sale three days later.

So where are most of the hopeful buyers in Dover coming from now?

New York and California, we’re told.

Did anyone see that one coming? Or have a clue just where it might lead?

Looking at highly motivated people for inspiration

Do you ever look around and see people who seem to get a lot more done than others? I could tell you about some of the lifeguards at the indoor pool where I swim, the ones who do their school homework when they’re not watching us splashing around. Uh, swimming laps — something they can do four times faster than us geezers.

Well, in my novel What’s Left, the narrator has a similar question, one regarding many members of her family. (You won’t find it in the final version of the book — but it’s true all the same.)

I return to the question, How do they manage? All that they do?

~*~

Her aunt Nita, as we’re told, sticks to a routine and limits her evening activities. Her father could easily split his workweek into 20 hours of photography and 20 of Buddhist focus. Her mother would be putting in more at the press but still devoting considerable free time to practicing and rehearsing music.

Some others just seem to go without sleep or rise before dawn to get an early jump on things.

Tell us about somebody you know who seems to be super-human. Do they have some secret you see?

~*~

A fragile, old film negative sits atop a light box. Cassia had to learn how to handle these gently. Very gently.

An insider’s tricks of the trade

Her aunt Nita in my novel What’s Left, has an interesting insight on showing up for work before all the others. It doesn’t fit every job, but it did hers. And then I cut this from the final version of the book:

If you’re the first one in and the last one out, you can disappear in the middle of the day and your coworkers and bosses are none the wiser. They just assume you’re out on assignment.

~*~

Not all jobs require you to punch-in or punch-out on some kind of clock. I’ve never had to work one of those, fortunately, although I’ve often had to fill out weekly time cards before being paid.

What I did find, though, was that even when I was putting in a lot of unpaid overtime (the joys of being low-tier management!), I could still feel the judgmental eyes behind my back.

Are you ever considered a slacker on your job? How does it feel? How do you respond?

~*~

In the family, Cassia would have had food like this. Greek olives! Best of all, packed in olive oil!

Enumerator insights

After 7½ years of retirement, I returned to the workplace part-time for two months this year.

The job was supposed to begin in May and run through the summer but got pushed back to August and then abruptly cut off at the end of September.

I was a federal agent.

The private identifying details we recorded are sworn to secrecy – or the equivalent, for those of us who follow Scripture and refuse to take oaths. But I’m still trying to put the experience into perspective.

For nearly 40 years, I’ve worked through the available Census files in my genealogical research, as you’ll see in the posts on my Orphan George blog. It’s become something of a specialty for me, along with the Quaker minutes. I mean, it’s how I learned that Grandpa married the girl next door. There’s also one set of ancestors who were recorded twice in 1860 but with enough differences to make me suspect there were two Jacob Ehrstines closely related – one detail in the 1870 Census cleared that up. And I have one ancestor who shaved another year or two off her age every decade, though I have no idea whether it was intentional or out of ignorance, considering that Quakers didn’t celebrate birthdays.

So I set forth in part out of gratitude for those earlier enumerators. The first ones, incidentally, were federal marshals. This was that important.

What surprised me as I hit the streets and knocked on doors on behalf of the Census Bureau was how physically hard it becomes – bending over an iPhone placed on a clipboard to input data quickly had my back aching, especially. For a dozen years, I managed to work a double shift every Saturday as a newspaper editor, yet here I was pushing my limits when it got close to five hours a day. (Wimp!) Six really maxed it. An article in the Washington Post enlightened me that I wasn’t alone here, so I couldn’t blame it all on age.

I am surprised by how many Americans don’t know what a census is or that it’s required every ten years or that they don’t want to be recorded.

Well, I now also have a clearer understanding of why one household might disappear ten years later but reappear again in a subsequent Census. You know, be there in 1800 and 1820 but not 1810.

I am also surprised how much of my brain space got wrapped in a job again. You know, replaying cases and wondering how I might have done them differently. This was supposed to be something I could let go of at quitting time. Not so, though.

Inputting data in an app on an iPhone still strikes me as tedious. You might have guessed I pretty much hate texting, except as an alternative to an actual phone call. (Emails seem to be my preferred form of communicating these days.) How do kids do it, texting with their thumbs? Or are their exchanges all typos?

Oh, yes, another confession. I’ve typed for nearly six decades now. Self-taught, earned my livelihood with it. Written whole books, even. But ask me to re-create a keyboard from memory, and I have no clue where the individual letters of the alphabet are. The memory is all in my fingers, not my head. Seriously.

So I can’t imagine keyboarding with my thumbs. As I was saying about the kids? Besides, thumbs are awfully fat for those tiny screens. My dry fingers had enough trouble connecting, even before getting to any issue of accuracy.

In my rounds, I had a few near falls (including one wooden step that wasn’t nailed down anymore), a couple of dogs who could have turned nasty, some close calls in traffic, but emerged unscathed.

Some of the most enjoyable interviews turned out to be those where I could put my very limited Spanish to work. Other enumerators had backed off, so I guessed it was up to me, and somehow, we got the required data, often with a lot of laughter. Yes, I made some funnies.

The best part of the job, though, was meeting people who, for the most part, were warm, friendly, helpful. I have a much clearer understanding of the neighborhoods around me.

Would I do it again?

No, I’ll be too feeble – or feebleminded – in another decade.

But maybe you’d want to give it a crack.

Cash in a time of Covid

Well, this used to be the start of the Christmas shopping season, and with Coronavirus I’m assuming that our Thanksgiving gatherings are smaller than usual. (Anyone sitting down to a turkey TV dinner rather than a family gathering?)

Traditionally, today is a day when we’re supposed to think about what we’re grateful for during the past year, but we’re more likely reflecting on what we really miss.

Those face-to-face times when we’re altogether, especially. (Including those casual opportunities to pass along treasures to others, too … as I’ve pondered while culling my bookshelves.)

It’s even having me admit how little cash I’ve used since March, instead putting most of my small purchases “on plastic,” the way, say, most kids have long been doing. For just a cup of coffee?

I’m wondering what else, besides cash, has been a victim of this pandemic.

High on my list would be communal worship, singing together, dancing, concerts and plays, swimming and similar exercise as well as sporting events with live crowds, study groups, parties.

For the record, I’m grateful nobody among my family or friends has come down with Covid and that none of us has been evicted. Also, for one in particular, being furloughed opened the door to an even better position. So the list of positives begins to emerge.

How about you?

It’s surprising to see how much early morning commuter traffic there is here

As a line in one of my poems goes, New Hampshire is for the most part a daytime state. The thought arose in downtown Portsmouth around six o’clock on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening around  this time of the year nearly three decades ago, and it still holds.

For added perspective, let me add that Portsmouth was – and until Covid – continued to be the place with the most nightlife in the Granite State, yet the center felt deserted that evening, save for a few furtive figures dashing from doorways and down the sidewalks.

Well, tourist season had long passed and the weather was definitely frigid. I imagined that everybody was already huddled inside somewhere.

Lately, I’ve been thinking there’s a good reason for that daytime state observation. The bulk of the populace in the state has a long daily commute to and from the workplace.

~*~

When I lived in Manchester, my apartment was only a few miles from the office. I had backways to zip from home to work and back.

In moving to Dover, things changed. My hour-long daily commute over Manchester involved part of the afternoon rush hour, which blessedly was headed mostly in the opposite direction. For the late-night return, the roads were nearly empty.

Working the vampire shift or weekends definitely gives you a different view of a certain subculture of society. You can shop or run other errands when so many others are locked away on their jobs.

One thing I learned to avoid in my free time was trying to head south, meaning toward Boston, any earlier than 9 a.m., when the bottleneck at the Great Bay bridge would finally clear out. (After years of construction, that problem’s finally been alleviated. Hooray!)

Other than that, I haven’t thought much about rush hours, but recently, given repeated opportunities to dash across the state in the morning on behalf of my elder daughter’s business, I’ve been retracing my former daily commute plus a little more, just at a much different hour.

Hoping to avoid the morning rush hour, I’ve set forth as early as 5:30 but been surprised by the amount of traffic already on the road, significantly more than I’ve been seeing at 8 or 9 in the evening. By 6:30 a.m., the headlights streaming out of seemingly rural locales (what we call towns or others might consider townships) is quite steady – in one direction. Many of them, I’m guessing, are headed toward jobs in Massachusetts, ones that might start at 8 or 9.

As I ponder the flow, I’m wondering how much heavier it was before Covid and all of the work-at-home shift that’s followed. Did the drivers I’m seeing previously have to leave that much earlier to accommodate the heavier traffic volume?

Still, if you’re among those who have to rise at 4 or 5 to commute four to six hours a day, that leaves little time for evening activities. It strikes me as a high price to pay, but then so is the cost of housing in the Bay State, where most of the good-paying jobs are.