Sunday, May 30, 2010

Not Standing Still

The baby is due any time now, and we are all rearranging ourselves to welcome the newcomer. Katie feels good, but she gets tired pretty easily. And having a toddler under foot provides extra challenges. You clean. The toddler messes. You clean again. Keeping the house in order is kind of like a Rubix cube puzzle, with supreme cuteness on the side.

I spent the morning with them yesterday. Helped set up a web camera to connect with the Ohio grandparents, sampled some green beans fresh off the plant, watched Honey enjoy a chocolate ice cream cone - and cleaned the results off of face, hands, shirt, couch, floor, etc. Katie made us a wonderful lunch of roast chicken and green beans. Yum. The food is always wonderful at Katie's house.

Mick stayed in Little Rock yesterday because he is spending every extra moment in his studio working on a new children's book proposal. Here is an unauthorized peek at one of the early sketches. I think this work will be really beautiful when its finished, and so does his NY book agent.

Books are a significant change of pace for Mick, who usually works quick, on the tight deadlines that magazine clients typically give him. A book will take months to create and many more months to see daylight. Mick has to learn about working at a completely different speed, and about doing over the same images many times until they're book-ready. He's adjusting.

It feels good to be growing at our age, not standing still. Take my new accounting job, for example. I have been a volunteer bean counter all my life - splitting up the phone bill with my college roommates, keeping accounts for the Buddhist center, doing our family bookkeeping. How fortunate that I've found an employer willing to shape my native experience into a professional livelihood! Its a big transition for me, but also a natural one - and way less stressful than I imagined a mid-life career change would be.

My friend Thea recently forwarded an article about new research on stress. Here's a link to the article if you want to read the details. The gist of it is that people have a bigger repertoire than just Flight or Fight when responding to stress, including newly documented "Tending and Befriending" reactions. These additional reactions were initially overlooked because they're more common in women than men, but both sexes can overcome stress by bonding with friends and nurturing people. I am glad that these basic human qualities get recognized. Both strategies work pretty well for me.

Here are this week's pictures of Honey. What will I do when the new baby comes? Post more picture, I guess.

I like this first picture because it shows Honey in motion, which is her natural state these days. Just a few weeks ago, if I had asked her to stand next to the flowers so I could take a picture, she would have stood there and posed for me. But these days, she rarely stands still. Instead, she needed to walk along the planter box chattering to me and Katie and pointing to each flower one-by-one. I had to stick her in a swing that she can't move by herself to capture the still picture. She's moving on.

I hope life is moving well for all of my friends. Apparently, you can fix your life by calling up someone or taking lunch to your ailing neighbor. Either way, I hope you find what works and keep moving on with it.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Reading a novel called Home I came upon the word "Deracinate" which means "to pull up by the roots."

One of my dear Buddhist friends in California finally succumbed to cancer and died on Saturday morning. Over the weekend I got reports of her final days, the community's reactions, and the funeral plans. I earnestly wanted to be there, but the trip is out of my reach. So instead of going to California, I deracinated some weeds out of my new Arkansas garden and thought about my friend Jeanne.

Last time I saw her, Jeanne told me that her worst fear was becoming bitter and grumpy at the end of her life, thereby alienating and hurting all the people she loves the most. And so she had posted signs on her walls. One said, "Never assume anything" and another said, "Be kind!"

It just takes so much time and shared experience to create those deep, satisfying friendships. You know what I mean. And when a dear old friend dies, and you are recalling all the accumulated moments you had with that person, you realize how shallow or underdeveloped the new friendships are by comparison, no matter how sweet.

When applied to people, "Deracinate" apparently means "to uproot a person from a native or customary culture or environment" and I often feel deracinated here in Arkansas. Tone deaf, out of touch, clueless. For example, while working on the Census I forget to make the friendly remarks that people expect and too often jump straight into the business of asking who lived in this abode on April 1, 2010. Their grim faces sharply remind me that I've slipped up again. Oops.

I resigned from the Census today - handed in my ID badge and Number 2 pencils - not just because the work has become repetitive, but mainly so that I can have more time with Katie as she heads towards the new baby's birth. So many more important ways to spend my time!

On the whole, I feel like a comfortably transplanted bush rather than a composted weed. I mean, I can feel myself tentatively sending out new baby roots into the warm Southern soil around me. And we are meeting people, going out with people, making new friends. There is a process underway. And, there is always the sweetness of being here with Katie, Travis and Honey.

Yesterday, Travis biked the 45 miles from Perryville to Little Rock, while Honey and Katie relaxed at our house. Katie took a nap, and Honey helped me harvest some electric blue Hydrangea flowers from our garden. Later, we all met up with Travis at a pizza place downtown, put his bike in the back of the van, and had lunch. All very normal, and exactly the kind of easy, natural times I hoped we would have when we moved here. I have no complaints.

I could not find the antonym to Deracination in my thesarus. But however you say it, I hope you are each enjoying the fruits of your deeply planted relationships, and building new ones. And I hope all of Jeanne's friends are finding comfort in the luxury of having known her.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Census Taking, Do-Over

I posted this blog incorrectly the first time on Friday. Let me try again:

(May 1, 2010) I've been in training with the US Census all week. Eight-hour days in a church community room with 50 other trainees, all of us looking forward to getting outside.

The Census bureau hired 1100 enumerators (like me), 80 supervisors, and 11 managers in the Little Rock area. Many of us are redundant and we know that the Bureau plans to weed out some people. The competition makes it hard to be friendly with one another. But this is Arkansas, where nobody is a stranger and friendliness rules. So we ended the week more like players on the same team than competitors.

After spending the first day being annoyed at all the dumb questions, side tracks and time-wasting, I decided that friendliness would be better for me, too. So I started asking people about themselves. The trick not only made me much happier but also makes the job easier. I mean, Arkansans just aren't going to answer my Census questions if I'm not willing to invest a few seconds making friendly conversation before getting down to business with them. So, I practiced behaving like a native for the last couple of days. It was fun.

Most of my co-workers have day jobs (like I do) but are still underemployed or just want to earn a bit extra. I didn't meet anybody whose here for the experience or because they want to write about it or because they are amateur genealogists - like me - who feel obliged to help future generations trace their ancestors, like the Census enumerators of the past have done for me. A few people are serving in the military. Some are in school. Some are retirees. Everybody needs the money.

Even though the job pays only $12.75 per hour plus mileage, its often more money than people can earn in their regular jobs. My supervisor is a gunsmith who can't find enough work to support himself. I met more than one person wiped out financially by a recent divorce. One fellow is a zookeeper who earns only $12 per hour after twenty years experience and nine years handling exotic birds for the Little Rock Zoo. Can you imagine: All that expertise and only $12 per hour in pay? I'm shocked.

Mick and I took Honey to the Little Rock Zoo just a few weeks ago. I enjoyed the place but had no idea that its workers are treated so poorly. Makes me wonder what else I'm missing.

In fact, the whole Census experience attracts me because it will send me out looking for people who are living under the radar. In our first day of field practice, they sent me to a part of Little Rock I had never seen - a place where one in five houses is abandoned and the rest are standing only by sheer force of will. It was sobering. And yet it feels good to be looking these folks in the eye, seeing them, not pretending that they don't exist. I'm proud of our government for taking all this effort to count everybody, not just the ones who normally count.

Apparently, the Census bureau hired 650,000 people around the country to check out 48 million addresses nationwide. Here's an Associated Press article about the process, including the training I've just completed. Please, for my sake, if you see Census workers in your neighborhood give them a friendly Arkansas greeting for me.

Here are my pictures of Honey for this post. Ironically, these shots were taken during our aforementioned visit to the LR Zoo. Honey was astonished to see an elephant, a tiger, a monkey. I think she didn't believe that they really exist before seeing them in person. And she was especially astounded to watch an elephant eating an apple - one of her favorite snacks. For weeks afterward, everybody was told, "Elephant, Apple!"

Mick and I continue to enjoy living here. It has started to feel like home. As we get more and more engaged in life here, we have less and less free time. I guess that process is inevitable.

I offered to teach a class at the local Buddhist center (like I used to do in Berkeley), and 40 people signed up. Wow! We are in week five and most of the students are still hanging in there, so I guess they like the class. My accounting job reverted to part-time after tax season ended. Even so, between the class and the new Census job, I feel very pressed for time. But happy.

I miss my friends. And, as always, I long to hear what's up with you. Ciao!