06 November 2012

Election Day and... Karen

There's something very bad about working seven days a week for seven months.  It isn't conducive to enjoying one's industry and doesn't lead to the pursuit of extra-curricular writing.  At least it didn't in my case.  It was almost unbearable, and yet there's a satisfaction at being able to survive waiting at the end.  Now that it IS over, we return to our regularly scheduled pursuit: the discussion of full-time enjoyment of humanity.

Why?  Because People ARE Candy and it's time I indulge.

This is Karen.  It's election day here in Northern Virginia, as it is everywhere in the United States and presumably, at a few other locations around the globe.

As we all know, it's been a nasty, vicious and particularly partisan year or two.  Lots of people are feeling very emotional about a lot of things and little of it is positive.  The campaigns have spent preposterous amounts of money to offend each of us to the point where almost no one has any good feelings about the political process.

Anyway back to Karen, who as you can see, is in Costco, which is where we met.  We met while waiting to get some lunch.

I was waiting in one of three lines and got tired of watching the woman in front of me grab the (large-ish) backside of the man who was buying her lunch.  Really, as if they were all by themselves instead of another human standing approximately 18 inches from those grabby hands?  I turned away to see what else could be more enjoyably looked at.  And there was Karen.

I smiled at her.  She smiled back.  I leaned in a tiny bit and said "Isn't it amazing?  For once in our lives, we seem to have gotten into the FAST line!"  She agreed and noted that for some reason, no one in the two (much longer) lines next to us seemed to have noticed our good fortune.

We chuckled about that and a few moments later, it was my turn at the counter.  I walked up, ordered my lunch and toddled off to the soda fountain.

I got myself a diet soda and went off to sit at one of Costco's white benches.  I sat down and then looked around.  It's an odd thing, finding friends in Costco lines.  It's only a tiny bit more personal than talking to strangers on a plane, because of course at any time, either party can get up and walk away.  But it's great practice for conversation, friendliness and engaging with one's fellow humans.

I'm ashamed to say that I've let my work, which is so much about people, overwhelm the rest of my life for the last 7 months.  I love meeting and talking with people, but after so much regularly scheduled, daily work-related interaction, I've come to cherish the times when it was not required.  I've let the personal pursuit of people-candy go by the wayside.  Today was my first day back as a social human.

(I know this because I did the same thing with a woman at the voting location and had a lovely time there, too, but one doesn't take pictures at voting locations.  Election photography is best left to professionals.) 

I looked back over my shoulder, caught the woman's eye and waved her over.   Very amiably she agreed to eat lunch with me.  What a great compliment, right?  That someone, a total stranger met only a few minutes before, would risk lunch with me?  I asked her name and offered my own.  She's friendly, you see, from a generation that values interaction with a friendly human of apparent good humor and reasonable mind above spending the time chewing on mass-produced pizza over whatever information is coming down the latest gizmo in the hand.

Karen is an Army wife.  Her husband is retired now, but in those years of moving around to postings, she has learned a few things about making friends.  She has three daughters and eight grandchildren.  She didn't offer any great life lessons over lunch.  She didn't tell any great secrets about herself, her family or anything else.  But she did reinforce my belief that people are good and fun and infinitely preferable to sitting alone at lunch or with one's nose pressed to the screen of a tablet, smartphone or anything else electronic.

I won't bother to tell you how old she is, because she is older than she looks and entitled to the youthfulness that your mind bestows on her.   But to me, Karen was a sirens call to return to what I like.  Because People Are Candy.  And even more than budget-minded pizza, I like to gobble them up.

28 October 2012


I'm reading this in my bedroom, watching a newscast, eating an oatmeal cookie.  The reporter on TV just proclaimed, "This is the calm before the storm."  I'm sure he's correct.

Yes, I prepared.  I've stocked up on food and water.  I've gassed up the car.  Have a little extra cash so that when the ATM's and cash registers aren't taking credit cards, I'll be still be okay.

I vacuumed.  Weird, how some women's minds turn to cleanliness, but... well, mine did.  (Apparently it doesn't take hell freezing over.)  A farmer friend gave me some great supplies from his fields; I stored them as best I could.  Dried some.

I've done my laundry.  Washed my dishes.  Stuffed my freezer with bottles of ice.  I have three flashlights; kitchen, bathroom and nightstand.  Lots and lots of batteries, too.

There is no doubt the power will go out.  I expect to wake up to darkness.  I'm betting power will already be off.  I have spare cellphone clocks that can be counted on to wake me up.  My toothbrush is charged.

They said I should unplug the appliances.  I'm not sure what that's about.  The neighbors taped their windows.  Another neighbor and his wife and I were discussing whether we really think that will help. I guess we decided it doesn't because none of us did.

A friend's husband told me he worries about me; I live at ground level.  That's true, I do.  But... I also live on ground level at the top of a hill.  On the other side of the interstate and down at the bottom of a couple of other hills... that's where the Potomac River is.   I could see it going down I-395 before it made it here.

So I'm feeling pretty good about this.  I have to go to work tomorrow.  I'm guessing I'll hop in the car, take 3-4 peanut butter sandwiches, a blanket and pillow and my hurricane gear (thanks ABC News!) and go to work in the afternoon.  I can't see showing up early, since I may not make it home in the evening.

I won't be checking in here but email will get through.  The cellphone should work for the first few days.  Power will definitely be out for several days, if not a full week.

About the only thing I haven't been able to find a work around on is... if you're looking for me on the street, I'll be the one having a very bad hair day.

Post-Sandy Update: the Super-Storm came through Washington.  Yawn.

03 August 2012

A View To A Hill...

Congress has gone home for a few weeks.  They didn't finish "the People's Work," but off they went.  It happens every year in August.  The House refused to approve a resolution to recess, so the Senate returns with what's called a Pro Forma session: member or two opens for one minute and then brings the session to a close.  There's very little "pro" about it.

As I was finishing up my day, I walked down into the Senate Radio - Television Correspondents' Gallery.  It's a wonderful place, full of history and tradition and enthusiasm for carrying journalism to the world.  It's also a journalists' delight as a reading room.  A little bit of everything and one or two of everything.

Today, I spotted a commemorative issue of Politico on the coffee table.  One issue covered in colorful drawings and imagery of the upcoming Democratic Political Convention upcoming in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (No, I'm not going, but I've been before.  Lots of other work having to do with staying employed here in Washington to do whilst the parties... party, right?)

Barack Obama, Star of the Show, is featured on the cover.  Fair enough, right?  One issue of Politico with the Democratic Party's Commander in Chief, coming right up!

I picked it up and was talking with a staffer.  He thought (as I did) that the issue would be about Charlotte.  You know, "things to do when you're sick of chanting 'FOUR MORE YEARS, FOUR MORE YEARS' " ad infinitum.  But the issue is actually more of the daily send-up of political news, and a few interesting tidbits.  I thought "that's nice.  They're putting out special issues."

Not so.  Here's the flipside.

Equal time.  Even in the Senate R-TV Gallery.   Have a good weekend!

30 October 2011

Had Enough Chips? Pretzels? Candy?

When I ask "what is enough" and what is bothering us so much, what am I basing these questions on? Let's start with the most obvious aspect of life where people in general, and Americans specifically, are clearly struggling to get satisfied.

Food. Weight. As a country, the United States is struggling with huge (no pun intended... this isn't funny) weight issues. I've likened our culture's appearance to kernels of corn boiling in hot fat and in response, *POPPING* out of our previous boundaries.

Yep, we're fat. The government says two-thirds of Americans are overweight; one third or more are obese. And worst of all, our generation next is coming up chubby, too.

We're busy stuffing things in our mouths, looking for satisfaction. Looking for "enough." Looking to fill a hole inside of us that aches for "a little something-something." But instead of "a little," we eat everything in sight.

Come on. We've all tried to tame that one before. We have a few chips; we want a few more. Even the chip industry knows we can't let things alone. "You can't have just one" was the slogan of the nation's most popular chips for more than a decade. We're not alone in our overindulgence. The American Institute of Baking (AIB) reports snacks are a growth industry, "business insights projects that the savory snack industry will grow to $10 billion by 2012." We're nothing if not predictable.

But was there ever satisfaction in a few chips? But worse, has making it to the bottom of the bag ever inspired anything other than guilt? The salty (and now added sweet) additions to the carbohydrate load make them tasty. The carbohydrates themselves make you quickly crave more after you finish the first few.

So the big question is, when are you going to stop looking in the fridge for "enough"? And where can you look next?

24 October 2011

What Ails Us?

I've been giving a lot of thought to something lately. I've come up with an answer and I want to talk it through with you. First off, let's define the question.

When I ask "what ails us," what I'm really asking is what is ailing the U.S., our society, our country and us as individuals. What ails the U.S.?

I think it's the same question that's bothered me for a long time. When I say I'm formulating an answer, I don't mean to imply that I'm so insightful that I know everything about American culture. I am actually saying that I'm so very average and totally un-special that I'm bothered by the same things that are bothering the rest of the country. And I have mentioned the idea I have before on this blog.

I think it's a question of "enough."

I've told you before that someone asked me this question at lunch, years ago. A person who was wise beyond his years and looking at me clearly (and yet gently) enough to understand what he was seeing asked me, "What is enough for you, Marti? What is it going to take? What will be enough for you? And will you know it when you see it within your grasp?"

What a great question! I'm so glad it was put to me right then. I didn't have the answer at that time. I'm not sure I do now, although I know that many things I couldn't get enough of then are no longer troubling to me now.

So I want to start a dialogue here about our culture and the word "enough." Different aspects, subjects and theories. I want your thoughts, ideas and opinions, too. Consider it my own little research project. Topic: What is Enough?

12 October 2011

An Artful (Broken) Heart

I had my heart broken tonight. It wasn't by a person. It wasn't over a lost job. It was over this:
If you've ever loved and lost, then you know how I feel. This is an Emile Vernon oil painting that was at an auction. It's a particularly good one, because it doesn't just show the usual "pretty women" that he did so famously, but this painting seems to have an actual plot behind it: two bar maids whispering about a traveler with well-worn shoes. I bid briefly, but realized I had to walk away because I didn't have my life in order to provide the appropriate setting for this piece of art.
I'm going to remember this loss for a long time. There aren't a lot of things I truly covet and I'm sure there will be other paintings that I love in the future. But this one is a reminder that I need to work a little harder to focus my life and be able to provide a place for so much beauty.
Maybe this was what I needed to motivate me to move beyond my 40-45 weekly hours job, a job hunt, a website in development and a bunch of craft projects that so far aren't moving on Etsy.com, because as Scarlet O'Hara would have put it, "As God is my witness, I'll never be artless again." Or something like that.

06 October 2011

Steve Jobs: 1955 – 2011

The news that Steve Jobs died on October 5, 2011 lit up the cyber-sphere like very few things in recent history. Seriously, I've covered the deaths of former American presidents whose passing got less interest. I hope that is a testament to the way he lived.
I never interviewed Mr. Jobs. That should be clear upfront. Having covered politics and hurricanes for most of my adult life, there were always people far more prepared than me for questioning Apple's CEO. I can respect that. But like a lot of the Americans posting endlessly on Facebook.com and Twitter.com (which appeared to shut down for a time under the load) I greatly admired his passion.
Have you noticed that in every photograph of him posted around the web, he's engaged? He might not be exactly smiling, but he is there, in that moment, focused on whatever he's doing. That is a mark of true genius, in my mind.
Tonight, I saw it best explained in an article on Mashable.com, where the writer had interviewed him multiple times, over the years. If you want to read more about that, here's your chance. Because I want to move the conversation forward.
People seem very concerned that this country has lost a visionary. Yes, that's true. But we don't need to feel we've lost our vision. I think the best way to honor Steve Jobs is to do as he did: embrace the universe of possibilities every day.
I started my little website a year ago. It's in rebuild right now and I'm grateful for a couple of very talented web developers who have gone the distance with me in decision-making and design. These two Americans have made web development into an entirely different experience than what I went through 16 months ago, working with a New Delhi team that I came to refer to, both generally and specifically, as "Pirate." I hope in another six months, when I start to rethink, they'll come with me on the second journey. (A third? I'm hoping not because at that point, I'd like the site to need so many customizations that we have to take our friendship to the level of "just friends.")
I often tease my friends and coworkers that I'm going to "take over the world" with my darling little web project. I'm only halfway kidding and those that know me well with confirm that.
I don't expect to remake my industry. I don't expect to change the way people listen to music. Or shop for cars. Or feed their children.
What I'd like to do is enhance the way people understand the world and the opportunities that people in my industry are given... and take for themselves. I can only spend the amount of time (and money... ugh, the money!) on my little web project because I am passionate about it. I'm passionate about journalism and journalists and helping people re-ignite an industry and a group of workers that have taken some hard knocks in recent years. Otherwise, with my very limited television reporter's attention span, I would have wandered off long ago. But Steve Jobs, with the way he changed computer use and the way he pushed his limits, led the way.
I hope you're passionate, too, because if you haven't seen the news lately, time is limited. Eat dessert, love deeply, wear your favorite clothes and live your own life. Steve Jobs certainly did.