Enjoying Life NOW

Enjoying Life NOW

I’m working on a book for a client about career advancement – essentially a primer for how to move up from the lower levels through middle management to senior management. It’s a good book, written by a man who’s been in the trenches. He’s been dragged through court, threatened by a gun-wielding former employee, and hired and fired more people than most managers have reporting to them. I believe this book has its place.

I also see that the world is changing. People complain of millennials as lazy, unfocused, wanting to be coddled. Those attributes may well apply. But then I listened to my 23-year-old son talk at the holiday dinner table about what he didn’t want in a job: 16-hour days reporting to people less intelligent than he – people who would, because of their position on the engineering totem pole, get to take credit for his creative ideas and resourceful solutions. How does he know this? Because it has already happened to him while working several internships before he’s even finished college.

Eric’s father, Bruce, is old school. He came up in a time when all of the concepts in my client’s book were in full force, because the primary way to succeed in the world was to go to college, get a job, and then make your way as high up the food chain as you were able. That may be Eric’s goal, too. But it might not be, and I sense a bit of tension around the idea that Eric may be rejecting the old ways.

I, for one, applaud him.

Perhaps the kids of his generation are less driven than I am or his parents were or, most certainly, than my husband’s grandparents were. Is that necessarily a bad thing, though? Maybe – if you still define success by how high up the corporate ladder you can climb. But what if success is driving your own boat? What if it means having a life you enjoy right now, rather than a life you plan to enjoy down the road someday, after you retire at 6o or older? What if it means traveling the world and/or running your own small business instead of buying a car or going into debt for a mortgage or collecting all of the things we older people associate with “making it”?

Personally, I suspect that this millennial generation has discovered a secret many older people only wish they’d stumbled across a lot sooner. Investing in experiences – rather than a ginormous diamond ring or a vast estate with a lap pool – may actually be much more meaningful and memorable.

To be sure, it will be interesting to watch and see how these next dozen or so years of Eric’s life unfold. Regardless of which path he decides to take, I’m rooting for him.

Is It a Dream or a Memory?

Is It a Dream or a Memory?

As a little girl, I used to have a recurring dream about being in a car driving up, up, up over a steep hill, kind of like the cartoon image you see of those crazy rollercoasters with extreme drops. It would terrify me every time – I would sit, white-knuckled, in the backseat, as nervous as if I were driving. Usually, the dream was about a driving vacation – we were never at home when these steeply hilly situations occurred. An alternate route would be available, but it would be so far out of our way that my dad (or whoever was driving) would elect to take the steep, steep hill, rather than take the very extra-long way around. To this day, I find driving up and over steep hills a bit stomach clenching.

I must have mentioned this dream at dinner one time, because I remember my mom being convinced that I was remembering the drive she and my father made from Detroit to Phoenix when I was mere months old. As I heard the story – and perhaps vaguely recall seeing in a photograph – my folks packed up what I imagine must have looked like the Beverly Hillbillies’ wagon with every stick of furniture, dish, and item of clothing they owned, and hitched it to the back of their 1967 Chevy Impala.

Then they headed west.

I’ve made that drive, starting farther north and east. Regardless which way you go, there are some pretty scary stretches, particularly if you’re pulling a perilously packed trailer stacked to the rafters behind a low-riding boat of a car. As my dad described the journey, he was terrified at several points as the trailer wavered severely that it was going to topple over.

So I suppose there could be some analogy between that actual journey and my crazy, recurring dreams. But is it really possible that I remember something that happened when I was less than 4 months old? My earliest conscious memory, also car related, is of pulling up to the house where I grew up in the backseat of my mother’s Oldsmobile, all squared off and olive green. I had to have been at least 2 years old when that would have happened.

My husband swears he remembers being bathed in the kitchen sink as an infant – so his conscious memories go back a lot further than mine do.

Dreams are weird things. I often balk when a fiction author uses a dream as a device, as it tends to feel like lazy writing, unless the whole story somehow involves sleep and the dream process. I feel the same when movies or TV shows use them. Yes – the screenwriter or author is God, creating the characters, story, and scene – so he or she should know their character well enough to know what they’d dream, but it’s never just a dream. It’s usually a plot device. There’s almost always a special or hidden meaning under the dream, and it usually feels very manufactured, as if the author couldn’t be bothered to write dialogue or paint a scene depicting whatever the dream is supposed to help explain away.

Dreams can be harbingers of events to come; they can be reflections of memories; and they can be patchworks of the past, present, and future – as Mr. Scrooge experienced. Sigmund Freud famously expounded upon universal dream symbols, but I’m not convinced. While I have ABSOLUTELY no authority on this subject, it seems to me that accurate dream analysis is a highly subjective art, as dream symbols probably vary from person to person, from geographic location to geographic location, and from culture to culture. For instance, dreaming of an owl in certain cultures has ominous prophetic meanings, while in other cultures, the dream might be viewed as a positive message.

My sister and I were not twins, but we most definitely had a psychic connection, to the point of having the exact same dream on the same night. She’s been gone for more than two years, but I still dream of her often – and she is always beautiful and healthy and smiling in those dreams. Sometimes they are so real, it seems I could physically touch her.

I’ve never spoken with Eric about his dreams – he’s a fairly analytical person, so it’s possible he might not tap into them very often. On the other hand, perhaps he’s like my husband and has memories that go back to almost his earliest days. Either way, it would probably make for an interesting conversation. Who knows? Maybe we’ll actually have it one day.

Back to School (Temporarily) at 50

Back to School (Temporarily) at 50

I recently attended a writers’ conference at Arizona State University. First time back on campus in many years, at least as a student. And I was most definitely a student for those couple days – commuting, parking, backpack, lunch at the student union, the whole enchilada. I was wandering around looking for a specific building, trying to appear nonchalant about it – apparently without much success, as one young man pulled his earbuds out and asked me if I was lost. Thoughtful kid to even notice, let alone take the time to help out a stranger who could easily have been his mom. “Why – do I look lost?” I asked him.

He grinned and nodded. “Yeah, kinda.” Then he proceeded to walk me in the direction of the building I was seeking. We chatted a bit on the way. His name is Ernesto and he’s from a tiny town called Rio Rico, not far from the U.S./Mexcio border. I mentioned that I’d gone to the University of Arizona, ASU’s arch-rival. He feigned upset and pretended to walk away. Then he told me he’d started at UA – makes sense, as it’s a lot closer to his hometown than ASU. But he didn’t like it. Felt it was cliquish and uninviting. A hard place to blend in and make friends. I told him that was funny to hear, as I’d thought the same thing about ASU back 30-some years ago when I was considering applying to schools.

At any rate, he’d transferred to the big city college at the start of this school year, and hasn’t looked back. The sheer size of the Phoenix area still overwhelms him, but he likes the campus, the town of Tempe where ASU is located, and the people much better. I say good for him for knowing his own mind. Reminded me a bit of Eric’s comments that so impressed me during that one dinner we shared with his family back in December:

He’s in his senior year at Northeastern University in Boston, majoring in environmental/civil engineering. At the one family dinner we shared with him, Eric explained a bit about his process for choosing Northeastern. He and his dad had gone to tour a number of schools in Boston, and Eric found himself paying particular attention to the demeanor of the students on the various campuses. Immediately he rejected a couple of schools, simply because none of the students looked even remotely happy. That’s a pretty significant level of awareness for an 18-year-old. And I couldn’t have been happier or prouder to hear him describe this thoughtfulness.

So chatting with this kid, Ernesto, of course reminded me of Eric. I rather suspect that my son would be the one to pull out his earbuds to help a lady the age of his birthmom find her way around campus. He’s charming and considerate that way. I was also just reminded of him in general, being on that campus again. While I never attended ASU as an undergrad, I did take part in a summer program for smart kids back in high school – that’s where I met my amazing friend Jane. There’s a reason they segment school into various age groupings. We might have been in a gifted program, but we were still a bunch of high school kids, running amok on a college campus. So you might not be surprised to hear that one of the things that delighted us that first summer was going up to the roof of the Modern Languages building and making a game of trying to peg the people below with Skittles. I never liked the taste of those candies – but I still chuckle at times when they come up in conversation.

I did grow up and move on to become a real undergrad. I look back now and wish I’d taken a lot more advantage of the speakers and concerts and general-interest programs that were offered on the campus. The good news is that our new house is pretty close to ASU, so we still have the opportunity to do those things. Although, the attitude and demeanor of college campuses across the country seems to have changed so much since I was in school.

When I was at the UA, mall preachers would hold signs and shout at anyone who’d listen. Now, they are confined to a tiny corner – and I suspect their speech is closely monitored. I had several teachers I despised for various reasons (mostly opinions with which I disagreed) – today on certain campuses, I could file a grievance that might actually affect their pay and status and even tenure prospects. A-list comedians are opting out of stops on college campuses because the PC Thought Police are wringing every last ounce of fun out of comedy. Thoughtful commentators are being labeled as extremists, as the actual extremists – uninformed students – shout them off the stage. The campus protests of the ’60s were before my time, but I suspect from the videos I’ve seen and what I’ve read that people were at least allowed to air their perspectives – even if it was through a megaphone or while bike-locked to a chain-link fence.

So things are different now.skateboard lock

And I really have become my father. I was making my way to the student union for lunch, when I suddenly heard the rumblings of something that sounded like a cat being murdered. Turns out, whoever determines the tunes that get played in the breezeway in front of the student union has what my professional guitarist husband would call comically juvenile musical taste. It was thumping, bumping, ear-splitting EDM (electronic dance music) – and no one even seemed to notice. The 19- and 20-year-olds carried on their conversations, shouting to be heard, but without flinching or batting an eye.

I also noticed something I’d never seen before that made me feel old: skateboard lock racks.

Then I headed to the library. Some things have stayed somewhat the same. Though many technology options abound that didn’t exist when I was in school, it’s still a quiet place where studious kids seem to congregate. One cool thing was the school’s prominent encouragement toward sustainability and recycling all across campus, including a large sign painted above the photocopier in the library lobby. (I do, however, take exception to the encouragement to print anywhere.)

ASU sustainable

The kiddo is getting ready to finish up his college career this summer and make his way out into the wide, wide world. I imagine that one day, as he looks back to his university days when his 7-year-old cousin Parker is a college senior, things will have changed even more. As well they should – it’s the only constant in life.

The Stuff of Life

The Stuff of Life

My husband and I moved into our new home a little over a month ago. Because the floors weren’t finished when we moved in, we’ve had to take our time unpacking – making it more of a room-to-room effort than a whole-house project. It’s interesting to look at the things we’ve acquired and moved, apartment to apartment and house to house. We have items from our childhoods, both our parents, John’s grandparents, my sister and her first and second husbands – along with the things we have personally added to our now rather sizable collection of stuff.

I was reminded a few months ago how personal a collection of stuff really is. I was on my way home from a book festival, my SUV full of all of my “important” book festival supplies: tables, chairs, table cloths, stands, wood crates, books, bookmarks, lights, pens, etc. Stopped at a traffic light, I noticed a man next to me who was hauling his own cart full of stuff – as homeless people in the Phoenix area (and probably other places) are sometimes inclined to do. It occurred to me as I watched him attempt to maneuver his over-full shopping cart that although I might think the things in that cart are just a pile of junk, to that man, they may be the world. Who’s to say what has value to someone? Chances are he might have found my books – the most personally valuable of the possessions I was hauling that day – unimportant, perhaps worthless.

We found out recently that Eric is going to be an uncle. His sister Jill and her husband are expecting a little one in August. Now that they are just about full-time empty nesters (Eric will graduate from college in May), Kathy has alluded to the fact that she and Bruce might be thinking about downsizing and moving closer to their daughter and new grandbaby. She told me that when they first began talking about this eventual possibility a handful of years ago, she was worried that Eric would resist the idea because the home where they live now is the only house he’s ever lived in. He was fine with the plan; it was Jill who was a bit upset. “You can’t sell the house where we grew up!”

But it’s what we do: we move through the cycles of life – and often that includes physically moving house, as the Brits say.

The thing is that with downsizing comes the sorting of a lifetime’s worth of things. Much of my stuff stayed in my folks’ garage until we finally moved my mom into a nursing home and sold her house – then those inevitable decisions could no longer be postponed. Presumably some of the things that would need to be sorted at Kathy and Bruce’s house are Eric’s, and he will have to make those same decisions about what to keep and what to sell or give away. Little League trophies, books, photos, sports equipment. It all mattered once upon a time, but does it still?

When I moved back to Phoenix from New Jersey, I brought only what I could transport in my Volkswagen Passat and the car carrier on top of it – namely, my dog Moondanz, my cat Gracie, my Mac, a couple of boxes of photos, and my clothes. The rest of it went into storage. I was temping and money was tight when I first arrived, so I within a few months, I didn’t pay my storage bill. All those things that had been too precious to get rid of at the time of the move were impounded – and gone. The vintage chalkboard Eric’s birthfather had bought for me at the indoor swapmeet down along the 1/9 (now a multiplex movie theatre). The very cool totem pole I’d bought during the six weeks I temped in Washington, D.C. for a white collar defense attorney with a Napoleon complex. Boxes and boxes of books (remember how valuable I mentioned they were to me?) and scads of craft supplies and completed crafts. All of it likely won in an auction by someone who might have gone on to star in the A&E series, “Storage Wars.”

At the end of the day, most of it is really just stuff. You often hear the question, If there were a fire or flood and you could save only one or two items, what would they be? After my husband and our pets, the only really important thing to me is my laptop (more specifically, the contents of said laptop) – but having paid a lot of money to restore it following a recent crash, I’m getting much better about automatically backing up all of my files, so even the things on the laptop are already recoverable.

Life itself is what’s precious. The things we collect while we live it just make it a bit more comfortable in the process.