Blood. Gore. Triumph.

Been awhile, hasn’t it?

I’ve been busy building a company while working full time, too busy to keep this blog at the level I need it to be.

But all that busy-ness will come to a crashing halt next Wednesday as I’m wheeled into the operating room for a total knee replacement. This time my left. My right follows suit after the first one heals.

First surgery. First experience of staying in the hospital. Then a longish three month (minimum!) recovery.

I’m excited about walking pain free and cane free. Eventually. I’m curious about the surgical procedure-the plan now is to avoid a general anesthetic and do it via a spinal block and a “cocktail.”  I told them to make it a double. And I can’t imagine what having an entire three months or more to focus on getting better is going to be like. I’m the woman who dictates emails to Siri from the shower. I’m writing this during my commute. I’m accustomed to doing at least three things at once.

Focus on me? Seriously?

Thing is I’ll need an outlet or two, for recording this journey, for thinking aloud, for pondering what comes next.

And while what I have to say may not always be joyful–or at times loud enough to be noise, you’re welcome to stick around to how the story goes.



Signs, signs, everywhere a sign…

I want to make a few things clear: I don’t wear a tin foil hat so “they” can’t read my mind. I don’t have a working theory on who was on the grassy knoll. While I find the 9/11 “evidence” of the Truthers interesting, I’m not sufficiently naïve to believe that we’re ever going to learn the whole story behind that fateful day—from anyone.  And it never dawned on me to buy a used missile silo to hunker down in when the Mayan calendar ended.

Granted, the past week, I’m thinking one might come in handy.

I openly admit to being a news junkie. It’s an occupational hazard; I’ve worked as both a reporter and in PR. The internet and my Kobo have made it a lot easier to get my daily requirement of three to four papers (this is easier to accomplish when one of the things you get paid to do is to know what’s going on) and at least a couple of respectable news websites. Lately, I’ve started collecting headlines—and there have been some doozies.

Let’s see—in the past week, an unmanned drone was spotted flying over Brooklyn. We’re getting buzzed by another really big asteroid that we didn’t see coming until it was nearly on top of us. North Korea is threatening to end a 60-year armistice and seems to think it has the firepower to hit the US with a nuke. There’s all the coverage of the upcoming papal conclave, much up it spiced up with quotes from St. Malachi warning of what happens if the next Pope happens to be named Peter (perhaps a moot point now since Archbishop Angelo Scola has jumped ahead in the odds).

Then there’s the oddest one of all—Israel Battles Swarms of Locusts from Egypt—which is not only biblical in the most literal way but if you consider the plagues Egypt is said to have suffered before releasing Moses and his people, it’s a long overdue irony.

It’s not that I think that any one of these events is some sort of dark sign of the coming of the end of days—although I’m sure there are those that do. And I’m almost willing to bet that every one of these things has happened before—although the last time a pope put in for retirement, none of us were here. The overwhelming part is the concentration of multiple strange, and in some cases, dangerous, events happening at the same time. Twenty-four hour news channels don’t help; they fill space by broadcasting these stories over and over, often with a far more sinister headline each time.

But I have to wonder if we’ve somehow become immune to the horrors threatened in the news. Did something change in the nearly a dozen years since 9/11?  Have we become so accustomed to the possibility of terrorists planning destruction and death right under our noses, so blasé about natural disasters, so numb to what far too often feels like the last gasps of civilization that we just don’t have the collective adrenaline to react?  If something really bad—something big, life changing—was reported to be headed our way, would we be able to consider the ramifications, maybe figure out some kind of solution—or would we just file it under yet another bad news story.

A steady diet of fear is a lot like the boy who cried wolf. With so many warnings—and the ever-present insinuation that the end is near—there’s a very real danger that we might ignore a true peril until it’s too late.

The potentially lucrative business of being unemployed

According to a handful of psychics who made practical predictions for 2013 (not the ones who speak of asteroids the size of Texas, President Obama revealing his “real” agenda and what famous celebrities ought to guard their health) along with a slew of articles about the job-less recovery and some personal observations, I think it’s safe to agree that in the future, there will be far fewer jobs.

But a whole lot of work. Someone’s got to do it.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been told this. Back in the late nineties, the term free agent was first applied to those other than professional athletes. Having been in an industry that was powered by freelancers, I didn’t see anything unusual about it. But then free agency was viewed as something performed by talented professionals with scads of work-life balance, who commanded huge fees from their chic modern home offices. I know. I was one of them. What wasn’t mentioned was that greedy corporations would take advantage of the situation, making freelance positions in areas of employment where they had never been before, mainly as a means of screwing people out of benefits and job security.

If there’s a will, there’s always a way for some businesses to turn a good thing into something exploitative.

But it’s true. The jobs are going away. And the reports that speak otherwise don’t mention that most of those added jobs are baristas or sweater folders at Old Navy.

In corporations and government departments across the country (and I presume in others) mature, experienced and skilled employees are disappearing as if it were the rapture. Despite the fact that the rationale is economic, they’re being fast replaced by a generation of newly minted grads who majored in Kool-Aid drinking and minored in hollow enthusiasm – which makes them perfect employees for these times. They’re cheap, too inexperienced to spot a bad idea and too gutless to point it out if they did.

The risk of such a fate befalling me was part of the motivation behind opening seed. It’s my hedge against surprise unemployment (That and I like to keep busy; some people knit and some people ski, I write). And in my case I’m grateful to have a good reputation, wonderful contacts and very little eyebrow raising at my hourly rate. My reach right now is limited, but in the last month, I’ve had a taste of how things would go if I fling the doors wide open.

More importantly, having that kind of employment insurance means one need not feel bitter or bring emotions into the current employment landscape. One can be a cool-headed observer. It is what it is and it’s widespread. It could happen to anyone. It’s numbers. In the end though, I truly believe it’s the corporations that lose—in continuity, in knowledge, in skill. Things in short supply that can’t be manufactured in a hurry. Corporations used to think in 5-year plans, but ever since the tech boom, everyone wants to be fast and lean. But short-term decisions tend to have long-term consequences. And apparently no one noticed that very few of these fast lean tech companies traditional businesses want to emulate managed to stay in business for five years.

Besides, once they get over their shock, these ghosts of cubicles past realize happily that they are now free to sell their well-honed skills on the open market—and many are. Wholly or in part. On their terms. Their ex-employers are weaker for the loss.

I’m not so naïve to believe that self-employment is all roses and chocolates. I did it for years and I was one of the lucky ones; I closed up when I realized that one my larger agency clients was the source of nearly 80% of my workload. They offered me a sweet retainer to keep it that way and then a staff position. I had no regrets; I worked with great people and I’m still benefiting from the experience I gained and the contacts I made while I was there.

But I remember the downside. Banks viewed you as unemployed. I was in business almost a year and a half on my own bootstrapping before I was offered a small line of credit. Things are probably easier on that front now. The lean times keep you up nights wondering if you’ll make enough to pay the bills. And then you lose sleep when the tsunami of work arrives, seeing no humanly possible way to get done on time. But you do it. And you invoice. And you have no one else to thank but yourself. And your clients.

Today there’s no need be hampered by a job in order to do interesting, valuable work. One admirable young woman I know decided she didn’t want to go back to the digital agency she had pretty much run prior to her maternity leave. She saw an opportunity, a problem that needed fixing and knew how to provide a solution. She now offers a range of virtual business services to other unemployed successful business people—and gets to raise her child at home.

So think. Think long and hard about your skills—what do you know, what can you do to make yourself viable in the unemployed economy. What’s your fall back, just in case? Whether it’s dog walking or cake decorating, tutoring or advising the nuclear industry, everyone is good and valuable at something. And you CAN take your destiny (and your paycheck) into your own hands.

And don’t ever let some corporation tell you that isn’t so.

Be choosy…

Ever notice how the people who criticize what you do and how you do it tend to be those who have accomplished very little in their lives. You know the type; we’ve all got one or two in our past. Those whose lives have been an absolute waste; whose only success has been in making those around them miserable.

I’ve also noticed that the people in my life who are the most supportive—sometimes to the point of gushing (it’s ok, sometimes you need that) are those who are the most productive and accomplished.

It’s a confidence thing.

People who have done well with their abilities and their circumstances are simply secure enough to enjoy and celebrate the accomplishments of others. Those who haven’t been able to summon the effort or the determination or the talent to take their lives somewhere lack that confidence…and the only way they can feel any sense of superiority is to cut others down to their size.

How can someone respect or appreciate effort and hard work, commitment and determination, sacrifice and ambition if they’ve never experienced those things.

Both of these kinds of people are going to be in everyone’s life. Hopefully we get blessed by more of the confident supporters than those mean spirited ne’er-do-wells. Sometimes that just comes down to luck.

But we all have the ability to determine how much the attitudes and commentary from both groups are going to affect us. To achieve anything, you have to fill your life with those who support you. Their confidence in infectious. Granted, no one accomplishes anything by blocking out all criticism. You need to go when you’ve gone off track so you can figure out how to get back on.  But learn the difference between constructive advice and someone who is faulting you for trying to achieve something they can’t. They’re limiting, fearful and lack direction—and no one who wants to succeed at something can afford to keep this kind of person close. They simply aren’t worth your time.

Be choosy. Choose those who will lift you up to reach your goals, not those who plot to pull you down.

Back in my day…

I hate those four words. They reek of old fogey-ness. Outside of a few progressively less credible stories about how my father walked five miles to school in hand-me-down shoes, uphill both ways, in grueling heat with snow up to here (Seriously? In southern New Jersey?), I was pretty much spared that attitude growing up. And whenever I sense that “these kids today….” feeling building in me, I shake it off and try to remember some of the genius stunts I pulled at that age.

But the truth is, as you get older, the present does tend to compare less favorably with the past. Sure, it’s a sign of aging, but whether real or romanticized, there are things, attitudes, even foods that I really believe were better twenty years ago. It’s true items were built better. My first washer and dryer, bought in 1987, for half of what you’d pay today, are still going strong in my sister-in-law’s ex-cottage. Double stuff Oreos have roughly the same amount of cream as the original ones used to. Aluminum foil is noticeably thinner and weaker. And Popsicles, chocolate milk and cheese slices aren’t anywhere near as tasty as they were when I was a kid.

Most of the differences in taste can be blamed on the removal of the fat, salt, sugars, etc, that used to be in the foods that apparently should have killed us all before we got out of our 20s. Funny, to my aged and jaundiced eyes, most little kids these days look oddly pale and more than a reasonable percentage seem to have a permanent runny nose.

I guess we were all too full of preservatives, and artificial flavors and colors to be worthy hosts to germs. My favorite food at the age of ten was peanut butter Space Food Sticks, which were quite healthy, but incredibly sweet and had the look and texture of brown PlayDoh®.

Call it nostalgia or romancing the past, but now that it’s summer, the evenings remind me of the ones many years ago when all I had to worry about was getting home by the time the street lights came on. I suppose I’ve been moving away from the simplicity of my youth for decades, but it’s only now that I really feel the distance I’ve come.

I think the real clincher in my recognizing that this world is no longer a place I recognize came this week courtesy of a local story that has shocked my city, and much of the country and beyond. Three teen girls, a 16-year-old and two 15-year-olds have been arrested for human trafficking. They allegedly lured even younger girls to an address via Facebook or some form of social media, held them hostage, drugged them, then forced them to commit ads of prostitution.

Beyond the horrific nature of the crimes—and thoughts of the damage done to the victims, I can’t get past thinking what kind of a place this world has become if such young teens, children really, somehow got the idea that it was ok to sell other children into sexual slavery—that people could be bought and sold. Yes, kids are cruel, teen girls can be particularly so, but this goes so far beyond even the outside fringe of the worst that could be expected from young women of this age. It’s sad, it’s disgusting, and I fear that it’s an extreme sign of how complicated and ugly things have become.

Whenever there are conversations about excess, greed, plunging morality and that sort of thing, you can count on someone raising a comparison to the fall of the Roman Empire. With its corruption and sexual deviance, at least among the upper class, it was weak and ripe for destruction. I can’t help but wonder if the 2012 end of the worlders are taking a hard look around and simply hoping for a fresh start.

Because if this is the kind of evil that children are now capable of… it certainly doesn’t bode well for the future.

My tarted-up fantasy

T.E. Elliot wasn’t kidding when he said, “April is the cruelest month.” Between the colds and migraines that both my love and have suffered over what has to be the wackiest spring weather (record-breaking heat in March, snow in April and a rough cold wind that won’t go away), excessive dog walking to train the little one, paying taxes, rushing here and there for various medical and auto appointments—plus on my part, a front row seat to what I’m calling a travesty of injustice—April has me in its (oddly icy) grip and is forcing me to the mat. It’s also forcing some (probably) overdue soul searching about what I should be doing and where I should be doing it.

I do believe that a change is as good as a rest—and until most of the last decade of my life—change was a constant. I worked in industry where if you stayed in the same job for more than a few years, it meant you were getting stale and in danger of becoming too complacent. My last two fulltime jobs in the ad business were my favorites; the very last one probably the one in which I had the most freedom, creatively and otherwise. On one hand, if I’d stayed, I’d probably be a partnered VP by now. But it’s impossible to say, since the creative director who made that freedom possible left to start another company (yes, there’s always that possibility), the other owner passed away and the company was acquired by a larger firm.

And staying wouldn’t have changed a thing. Or stopped everything else from changing. No wonder this kind of soul-searching makes one want to escape into happy fantasies.

For most people, fantasies involve sunny beaches with a frozen beverage at hand. That’s not for me. I remember the look my love gave me once when I told her that if we ever won a lottery, I wanted to buy an orchard because I thought growing apples would be a really fun way to make a living. Apparently I missed the point of winning a lottery in the first place.

So this morning, just after dawn, while whipping up a butter cake from an antebellum period southern recipe for my love’s birthday, one of my favorite fantasies began playing in my mind. When I worked in the advertising industry, during the frequent periods of absolute chaos, I would threaten to give it all up and open a bakery. Over the years, that generic “bakery” I could hide in has formed and reformed in my mind to become very specific.

I can see it as if it were right in front of me. The baby pink and a seaformy turquoise retro sign with funky type spelling out “All Tarted Up.” Just tarts, all tarts, (because tarts are the new cupcakes). A dozen everyday classics, plus a dozen specialty flavors that change with the season and my mood. Bright and shiny baby pink walls and a spic and span black and white tile floor, worthy of a diner named Al’s or Frank’s, with a gleaming glass counter filled with tarts. Old-fashioned sour cherry, vanilla-laced crunchy crème caramel in a shortbread crust, mile-high meringues on zesty translucent key lime cream in a chocolate dipped crust and chili-infused dark chocolate French silk. For starters. I would write the menu as a lusty erotic poem, crafted to seduce and satiate tart lovers everywhere. My wares would accompany customers home in pretty scalloped seafoam cartons tied with pink bows. Our uniforms would be retro too—50s pleated bowling shirts for the boys (and some girls who’d prefer them), sexy bodice aprons for girls, pointed kitten heels—and pearls. Always pearls. Costumes that are a pleasure to wear and inspire happy thoughts of a sweet era gone by. I presume they’d be so cute and in such demand; eventually we have to sell them too. And of course the neighborhood would be on the edge of up and coming, trendy, but still in transition, a place of raw chic and infinite possibilities.

Sigh. Infinite possibilities. Maybe that’s what I’m missing.

The crazy thing is that when I return to earth and add up what various financial institutions call my “available financing,” I think I’d actually have enough to do something this crazy and so out of my comfort zone. The thing is…would I? I have no formal food training. I have no idea how to choose real estate. I have another fourteen years of mortgage.

I think that’s the problem. What happens when a fantasy becomes a possibility—how to you make a leap of faith when your legs and your courage are stiff from too many years of insufficient use. Do I still have an appetite for change? Will my spirit gather adequate steam to make the jump? And am I courageous enough to deal with the consequences of a “pie in the sky” idea becoming the source of my daily bread?

Seeing Sooraya

This blog post is about art and religion. And a brave woman photographer who is standing her ground.

Art is something different to just about everyone. Groups may agree on theoretical aspects of a work or genre, but the emotional response to a photograph, a play or a piece of music is personal and unique to everyone who experiences it.

Religion on the other hand is a collective experience. Not only is every person of a particular faith expected to feel exactly the same way about a set of principles, ideals or beliefs, all religions are pretty much based on the same premise—controlling people in this life with the promise of something better in the next.

The photo below was taken by Sooraya Graham, a Fine Arts student at Thompson Rivers University in BC. Sooraya is a Canadian-born Muslim, fiercely proud of her freedoms as a Canadian woman and not about to let anyone censor her. Oh, but they tried.

Read the CBC story and you’ll learn that the photo was unofficially removed from public exhibit at her school by a teacher because some students complained (an act that would count, I believe, as vandalism, since an unauthorized person removed it). The officials at the school said “no way” and displayed it in another location.

Now the Saudi Embassy is getting involved. As if they have any legitimate right to comment on or censor any act of a Canadian citizen in Canada.

I’m not going to get into the “Muslim’s are trying to take over the world” thing. That’s hate-baiting and it makes me feel like I need a shower. I’m not going to labour into how women are treated by countries ruled by Islamic fundamentalists. We know all about it. The problem is we don’t know what to do about it.

But I know that in Canada, artists of both (all?) genders are free to express their perspective on the world and no Canadian, regardless of religion or gender should ever need to watch over their shoulder, fearing censorship from anyone.

That means you Saudi Embassy. And you Trad Bahabri, the (male) president of the Saudi Education Centre in Kamloops, funded by the Saudi Arabian government. You don’t get to censor a Canadian artist. You don’t get to lecture her on professionalism or context. You don’t get even the tiniest bit of control over what this Canadian woman decides to do with what she sees in her lens. So back off.

Personally, I get what Sooraya is saying. At least what her photograph says to me. That despite the niqab, a veil covering the face, and an abaya, a full-body cloak—and the beliefs that instruct in the wearing of such garments—we women are all the same underneath. That we have undeniable connections with each other that may not be always visible.

And that’s important. Because a lot of Canadian women—me included—have been creeped out by the sight of a woman wearing these items. To many, they’re a symbol of silence, invisibility, marginalization—all the things we’ve fought against for so long. The sight of them somehow reduces the wins we’ve achieved.

But hearing Sooraya speak about her art, defending her right to freedom as a Canadian woman—it’s clear that while the niqab and abaya might cover up her face and body—her vision, her strength and her pride in who she is, is fully revealed.

The photograph in question