Seriously, Fort Collins?

With all of the ideas bouncing around in my head -All the jobs! Bike Co-op posts! Dating sucks! I love disc golf! Education on the Internet in the 21st century!- you’d think I’d settle onto one of them and write about it. But no. No, no, no. The only thing I want to write about is what is royally pissing me off right now. Which is all the effing snow in my effing neighborhood.

I live in one of the wealthiest places in the world, and one of the wealthiest places within that wealthiest place in the world. As a US citizen I enjoy privileges and freedoms that citizens of less-developed nations would find highly enviable, like clean drinking water, the ability to say and do pretty much whatever I want as long as I subscribe to a general colde of ethics like don’t kill other people etc. without fear of punishment or retribution from the government or the king or the military. I enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. And all of these amazing privileges and freedoms make it really, really easy for me to be pissed off about things like snow removal.

Welcome to Fort Collins, Colorado: home to Colorado State University, one of the leading schools in fields such as agriculture, engineering, veterinary medicice, music therapy and more. This is a city of wide streets, comfortable homes, gorgeous views of the Rocky Mountain foothills, a lovely little reservoir that parallels the town to its West and access to canyons and rivers and lots and lots of public parks, open space, artistic entertainment, fine dining, and an overwhelmingly charming downtown we call “Old Town”. Generally Fort Collins’ city services take great pride in maintaining this beautiful little city in Northern Colorado. As a commuter cyclist and employee of the Fort Collins Bicycle Cooperative I greatly enjoy the city’s fairly huge bike lanes, our vast network of bike paths and our Platinum rating from the League of American Bicyclists. The city is seriously considering the implementation of a “stop-as-yield” law for bicyclists, and the drivers here seem to be more considerate of cyclists than in many other places.

(You’re not completely off the hook here drivers: one of you cut me off so closely I hit you while I was going about 20mph a few months ago and I suffered a minor concussion as a result, and YOU DROVE AWAY!!; none of you stopped when I wiped out so hard at the corner of Taft Hill Road and Suffolk that my bag exploded and I was sitting there crying and gathering up my stuff as about 50 of you passed by with barely a glance in my direction, and I have been unjustly honked at, screamed at, given the finger and have had far too many “near-misses” but I’m not angry at you right now, so keep trying to be cool. Extra special thanks to the guy in the pickup truck at Elizabeth and City Park this evening who slowed to let me pass him before turning right; that was monstrously generous & most people would have just cut me off. So many thanks!!)

But. Mostly. Fort Collins drivers seem to be more conscientious than in many places about which I’ve heard horror stories, so I appreciate it. I think it’s probably because most of you are also cyclists. I don’t have a car, so I don’t have a choice about riding, and I really -REALLY!!- appreciate it when you DON’T hit me. Every. Single. Day.

So what is it with plowing neighborhoods? I have to consider that either:
1) The City doesn’t have the money to pay the plows to get the ‘hoods, so we are stuck with ice-covered nightmares for roads between October and May. Annually. Or…
2) The guys driving the plows are psychopathic lunatics who drive gas-guzzling Humvees when they aren’t driving plows and don’t care for cyclists OR smaller vehicles sliding every which way after every major storm until we -WHEW!- make it onto a main street, or…
3) I cannot ride my bike in the snow; I am a terrible embarrassment not only to myself as a commuter but my job at the co-op. I should just abandon the idea of riding and DEFINITELY my job at the co-op and curl up in a little ball and cry and cry and cry.

So I categorically refuse to accept any of these. Debunking time…
1) The City of Fort Collins has plenty of money. It can pay to have signs erected thanking its citizens for her tax dollars, a brand-new courthouse and city commerce center built, MAX transit for TransFort (our public transit system), and an entire department devoted to bicycling in Fort Collins. Which, may I remind you, is in NORTHERN COLORADO. We get snow fairly regularly from October to May and yet there’s enough of a budget to fund a full-time, year round City department devoted entirely to bicycling within our community. I say to you people: WHY AREN’T YOU GETTING THE NEIGHBORHOODS PLOWED?!?!?!

I’d also like to mention that Fort Collins is largely middle- to upper-middle class outside of the student community. (Actually, the student community is too, but I’m trying here.) We have numerous homeless, unemployed, lower income, yes, but we are largely a fairly middle-class community. This City isn’t suffering from bankruptcy or lack of resources. #1 debunked.

2) This is actually most plausible to me. Maybe because it is so ridiculous it shouldn’t even be considered or maybe because I cannot for the life of me figure out why the street outside of my house is a skating rink and the street three turns from here, which is a main road, is perfectly plowed. Why must I suffer pain and fear and awkward bruising in my own ‘hood? Snowplow drivers hate cyclists and small cars, and they sit atop their lofty machines reveling in our pain and suffering as they spray horrific chemicals on the main roads to clear them entirely. Ha! Ha! HAAAA!!

3) I really don’t want to consider this, but it might be true. I don’t have studded tires but I do have a damned nice mountain bike, dangit, and I put it to WORK for me on these roads. I never really learned to bike well in snow; perhaps I need some lessons in this. More than anything I hate when I get into slush and my wheels go all wonky and I can’t figure out how the mountain bike I was riding suddenly became a swing bike suffering from demon possession. And then I fall. Epically. Usually these days I pull into my ‘hood, cycle the half block that’s been worn to road by vehicle tires and then jump off and walk the next 3 blocks, cursing the City soundly with every step for not plowing my neighborhood.

I might be the worst damned cyclist in the snow, but in paying City taxes, working at local businesses & volunteering for community organizations I feel like I have the right to a relatively safe ride home. Why stop at the main streets? Why not plow the ‘hoods and increase safety? This makes no sense at all.

Fort Collins, could you please get your act together and plow our neighborhoods? Plow drivers could probably use the extra cash and/or more people could be employed by the city. Fewer accidents are had. Drivers aren’t as stressed, and neither are cyclists. What gets me most is that this pretty little City manages to plow the bike paths -the BIKE PATHS- often BEFORE even plowing the streets. And yet the neighborhoods are left untouched, glittering icepacks. The scariest skating rink ever: hard, polished and then suddenly slushy snowpile.

PLEASE plow our neighborhoods. Your residents would really appreciate it.

The Daily Page 1.27.2014: Day Of Grace

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I had a gifted day, where magic in pockets large and small snuck its way into my life and left me speechless and overjoyed. It was a day full of blessings and grace.

I am fighting a terrible cold/bronchitis and went to work as usual, except Fort Collins was being heavily snowed upon. Still is, for that matter. Anyway, I took the bus to work, a blessing in and of itself, for as much as Transfort, the public transit system here in our little Northern Colorado enclave, is lacking in scope and flexibility, Route 6 picks me up about five blocks from my house and deposits me less than two blocks from my workplace. This is extraordinarily convenient for me. Bit of magic #1.

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Work this morning flew by; when Ray rang the bell for our communal coffee break I couldn’t believe it was actually so late. Then I took the slow slog with my bike to the co-op for my work afternoon. I work for a local engraving company; we make trophies, plaques, name badges, desk signs, and the like. I am the “badge girl” and managed to successfully and with minimal assistance setup my first badge job by myself today. It’s day 4 for me so I feel like I might be doing okay. They all seem to like me, and I like everyone I work with. Also, they work with my hours so that I can do my job at the co-op. Multiple blessings here but we’ll call the speediness, the company’s awesome factor and my successful setup of my first job in CorelDraw X6 bits of magic 2, 3, & 4.

My job at the co-op. This deserves its own post and it will receive it, but my job at the co-op is so much magic it’s hard to communicate it. Another successful though slow day, when I tried to find projects to do, things to talk to my shop manager about and ideas to implement and received positive feedback on all of it. Bits of magic innumerable.

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One of my mechanics came in and handed me a hefty grocery sack full of frozen lamb. We’d talked a few days before: I was going to help him with his new WordPress site and he was going to give me some freshly frozen young lamb from his own farm. How do you ensure you are consuming locally-raised and –butchered meats? Get them from the person who owns the animals. Oh. My. Goodness. One would pay God knows what for this amount of deliciousness reaped from the meat counters at Whole Foods and it STILL wouldn’t be as good. My roommates and I are fantasizing lamb feasts already. My mechanic gave me a short rack of ribs, two huge chops, and a leg roast. My tummy is rumbling just thinking about it. Many many more bits of magic!

Just about to depart the co-op for the sparkling white outdoors and leaving my bike there –this always concerns me and I hate leaving my bike anywhere. At the co-op I know it’s safe, of course, but I can’t GET to it until Wednesday at the earliest and that bothers me significantly. We are, however, buried more and more by the minute under this wealth of silencing crystalline beauty so I can take public transit until then. As I am about to leave another volunteer asks if I am taking the bus, then produces two bus passes for me that he won’t use as he is readying himself for a bike trip and leaving the state in a few days. My cup runneth over, so they say. Bits of magic galore.

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I board the bus and take it past my house to go to the grocery store, where I buy some easy evening dinner (mac n cheese…my culinary friends are shaking their heads in shame right now), then launch onto the sidewalk, heading home. Except now the sidewalks are terrible. The city has been plowing the streets all day and where does all the plow sludge wind up?? Right. On. The. Sidewalk.

So I end up walking in the bike lane, backwards, so I can see oncoming traffic. (Yes, I could have crossed the street, but that’s insane. So walking backwards instead.) On my way I encounter an intrepid citizen clearing his walk of the city’s mess. We chat, I thank him for his efforts that will ensure my safety for the length of his property and he asks if I’d like a ride. I try to beg off and eventually he talks me into it, bundling me, my bag and my groceries into his pickup and driving me the rest of the 0.6 mile home. I am mildly terrified –whatifwhatifwhatiswhatifthatif???- but he is easygoing, friendly and genuinely kind. We make small talk. His name is Dave and he owns a landscaping business. He knows the co-op and likes coming in. He’ll see me more there later this spring and summer. He flashes me a peace sign as I clamber out of his raised pickup truck, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I don’t know how to start describing this magic.

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I feel the small sparks of icy flakes on my cheeks like so many butterfly kisses of Sedna. (As if Sedna would deign to come to Colorado. Maybe she would.) Unlock my way into the calm safety of my house. Ring up my best friend, who asked me to call him, to find out he wants to take me to a show this Saturday, and needs me to find two more people to bring. I don’t have a cup anymore, I have an ocean.

As I cook my mediocre dinner and enumerate my blessings I wonder what I could have possibly done to deserve all of this. As a pretty big believer in karma I figure my past lives must have been much more interesting, or the universe is about to ask something huge of me. All at once I feel tiny and huge, elemental and insignificant, which I think might be some indication of grace. I think there must be reasoning behind racks of lamb and bus passes, the extraordinary kindness of strangers and that of dear, lifelong friends. I rarely can really grasp the reasoning of the universe though and so instead I smile and say thank you, thank you, thank you.

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This Writing Thing

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I am a full-time, professional freelance writer. I spend each day waking up, meditating, snacking on breakfast and tea and then tumbling off into my own little weird fantasy world concocted entirely in my head before I start to summon courage, to fortify defenses. I am terrified daily of what I must do, and daily what I must do enthralls me. Others wake, drudge, be where and who they are supposed to be when and how they are supposed to be, for somebody else. I schedule time to volunteer at the Fort Collins Bicycle Cooperative because if I didn’t, I would go crazy for lack of social interaction. (Also, I love the people there. And bikes.)

I am so. Fucking. Lucky.

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In a way I’ve been carving this path for years. This freelance project here, that freelance project there. At one point my best friend gave me a wake-up call. We were emailing back and forth about a social issue and he said he was thinking wow, this really bugs me, I should write about it. Then he said, I thought, no, YOU should write about it.

YOU being me. Me being the writer. Writing being the love of my life.

My best friend had it spot on, and he called me out on it. To be honest I don’t remember if I wrote about that issue. But for the first time I put together a writing resume, and a portfolio. I have no idea if this is what other writers do…and now, scratching my head and thinking about it, I probably should get some idea…but I sent it out. I started making calls. And incredibly, in March of 2013, something amazing happened. MadWire Media, one of the fastest growing companies in the world, contacted me. They wanted me to blog for them.

I think it was probably driven in part by sheer need for bloggers, but they hired me, and I started writing for them. In early September I parted ways with the world of working for other people, and told MadWire I needed to work for them full-time. Obligingly they loaded up my client schedule.

The work isn’t rocket science. I write mostly marketing copy. But I’m writing. For a living. When I paid my roommate my half of our rent this month he asked if it felt good to make that payment entirely from writing.

It didn’t feel good. It felt epic. Spectacular. Absolutely amazing. Experiencing triumph through what feels to me like coddling my own narcissism leaves me feeling dumbfounded. And really, really excited. Wait: I get paid? To write? To do what I love? What I love most of all? Really? This can’t possibly be reality.

Apparently, it can.

One of my favorite authors (thanks to my incredible mother) is Annie Dillard. Her writing is beautiful; her writing ABOUT writing is mind-blowing. She wrote: “Get to work. Your job is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.”

Right on, Annie. In about ten minutes I get to start cranking that flywheel. Oh, I am lucky, lucky, lucky indeed. And so grateful.

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Photo credit Matthew Gale, Matthew Gale Photography Ltd. Check out his work at http://mgalephoto.com/.

The Daily Page 8.17.13: My Stepdog

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I have a stepdog. I call him that because he’s my roommate’s dog. My roommate has a girlfriend who isn’t me, and we get along okay but we’re not good friends or buddies or whatever. When we end up in common spaces: the kitchen or the living room or whatever, we talk and we get along well. My roommate is a pretty cool guy: sharp, analytical, highly intelligent. Studying to get his undergrad in bio at CSU right now, to go on to graduate school. I met him on craigslist: because I needed a roommate or a ludicrously cheap place to rent, and he needed a roommate to keep his rent down. We live in a beautiful condo in Southwest Fort Collins, just on the edge of town to the point that going anywhere besides the local 7/11 feels like taking a trip “into town”. Especially without a car (I’m on a bike).

Tonight I am joined on the living room futon by both pets. My ever faithful wonderful Roo on my right, Stryder on my left. Stryder is part pointer, part hound, part other things. Possibly lots of other things. (Roo, for the record, is some kind of calico.) Stryder is medium-sized, sleek, mostly dark-haired, and barks. Loudly. Especially at men. This is annoying at times but mostly is awesome as far as I am concerned. Burglars? Rapists? Screwball meth-heads? Don’t need to worry about them: anyone ever tried to come in here without being myself or my roommate would receive a healthy greeting from Stryder. Stryder has not, to my knowledge, ever bitten anyone. He never bit me. Or anyone of my friends who’ve come over. His bark, though, is scary, and people react appropriately. They hand over treats or bits of kibble I’ve given them preemptively even as I shout over the racket to just ignore him & he’ll settle down. One of my friends, who has trained dogs, wasn’t having it. He was down-staying Stryder within moments of his first meeting. It was like a Zen kind of experience: here was this dog who went from beserker-alert mode to quiet, gentle and listening for commands. And my friend executed: authority (no you will NOT get treats if you continue to bark to me) and mastery (you will obey these commands, because I am the master and you are the dog). Stryder followed his cues faithfully, and it didn’t surprise me in the least. He’s an extremely intelligent dog, and my roommate has trained him very, very well. The barking thing seems to embarrass my roommate a bit, and while to me it’s a great alarm I can commiserate: nobody besides my friend who’s trained dogs has handled Stryder’s “greeting” well. They believe me when I say he won’t bite them, and give him copious amounts of treats and kibble in desperate attempts to quiet him.

So I call Stryder my stepdog. I love him dearly & he is a great dog. My roommate has gone to significant lengths to train him well. He is alert, sweet, loving, friendly, appreciative and welcoming to me. He makes me feel safe here alone. And I reciprocate a bit: I give him bits of people food here and there, and we take walks together. We’ve become buddies. When I come home and Stryder is waiting on the couch he goes wild for my arrival as though I am my roommate. Almost. An d then he runs upstairs, to await the arrival of his master. Stryder is sitting here now and keeps regarding me carefully. I’m positive he knows I am writing about him. He keeps staring down the computer, and then kind of elegantly regards me, like, you’d better get this shit right.

Probably, he just wants some of the sharp cheddar I keep slicing. But I like to think it’s because he enjoys the company as much as I do.

 

The Daily Page 7.23.13: Sometimes It IS All About The Bike

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My (sister’s) beautiful Trek. A wee bit heavy but that comes in handy in the winter.

I’m a cycle commuter. I don’t own a car so I get around town on my bike, primarily: a gorgeous black-and-grey Trek 4300 I repossessed from my sister’s ownership when she proved she was not in fact moving back to Colorado anytime soon (seven years or so later, she’s still in Charlotte, NC, so I was right). Before I started riding this cycle it was gathering dust nicely in our mother’s garage. And riding my beautiful Bianchi cruiser everywhere: a gorgeous bike and tons of fun to ride but probably weighs twice what the Trek does. And by commuter/road cyclist standards the Trek is a hefty bike.

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Most of the time it does exactly whatever I would like it to do…its tubes and tires are good, brakes work, it’s the right size for me, the saddle is comfortable and I hate the grips, but not enough to do anything about them. I volunteer a few hours each week at the Fort Collins Bike Co-Op and anytime I need mechanical work done one of the wrenches there is kind enough to throw it up on one of the stands and work merrily away on its brakes, its gears, whatever else I’m whining about at the time. Last week, though, it went on a few unplanned adventures.

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Purchased at Lee’s Cyclery here in the Fort (bottom sticker). Given LOTS of love by the awesome wrenches at the fantastic Fort Collins Bike Co-Op.

I was riding to work one day in the bike lane minding my own business when out of a roadside residence a longboarder emerged & started skating along the sidewalk next to the bike lane. He was fairly collegiate looking which in this part of the world translates to sexy/casual. It’s summertime so gym shorts, a CSU tee, flip-flops, thin muscular athletic build. Floppy hair, tanned limbs, easy stance as he rode along. I rode along admiring the scenery; Fort Collins is beautiful at 6:40 in the morning. The kid was a few score feet in front of me, and I’d easily pass him soon.

Until he decided to skate directly into my lane at the last possible moment, nearly colliding with me and my Trek. We would probably have taken him out, but all of us would have crashed, and I’m really grateful I had the foresight to look behind me just as I caught up to him, just in case he did…exactly what he did. If traffic had been coming I would have crashed into him instead of swerving in front of an SUV; a bike-board-dumb-kid-and-Dondi entanglement is substantially preferred to being mown over by traffic. Luckily for the two of us, and our machines, there was no traffic, so I slammed on my brakes, rang my bell, said a few unsavory words I’m sure, and skirted around him just as I caught his sleepy-but-widening eyes as his head snapped back to stare me down. In my cycling jacket and Oakleys (sans helmet though) he probably thought I was just another asshole Fort Collins cyclist. He scared the hell out of me though, and he didn’t look ONCE behind him before riding into my lane. Which was, of course, occupied by me, at THAT exact moment. I never see other cyclists out and about at that time of day at Taft Hill Road nearing Mulberry and perhaps he hasn’t either. Considering that if I’d been just a few seconds faster we would have irrevocably become entangled, though, and he WAS jumping into MY lane,  perchance maybe a cautionary look behind would’ve been smart? I didn’t have time to discuss this with him; I was hauling to work and our near miss ended up being an actual miss so I just kept on going.

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My old -school sun-bleached New Belgium bell purchased AT the brewery, yes we are fortunate in Fort Collins to have the company that launched the craft brew revolution quite literally in our backyard.

Maybe he’ll think about it more next time. So another day, I was off from work and had a meeting near the middle of the city, just southeast of the university, and then a date –yes, really, Dondi had a date, miracles do happen- in Old Town. It started to rain when I was leaving my appointment and a bus was going by (hurray!) so I jumped onto it and headed for Old Town. I texted my date to let him know I’d be there shortly –he and I were kind of playing it by ear, as I wasn’t sure how long my appointment would take- and he responded in kind, and I was watching the storm coming down through the bus’ windshield when the driver turned on the wipers and…

My bike’s handlebars were blocking the passenger-side wiper blade. I didn’t think much of it when I threw my bike on the bus…the bike racks on the buses are awesome, but a little rickety, and bikes do drift a little…but when the wiper caught my bike it actually LIFTED it out of the rack and nearly flipped it over entirely. The driver and I locked huge wide open eyes in the rearview mirror. Our mouths, similarly, were mirrors: hinged hanging open, perfect oval shapes.

“Did you see that?” He asked. I nodded. He pulled the bus over at the next stop and I got out, put my bike on the next opening on the rack, further from the windshield –it’s common courtesy to rack your bike as close as possible to the bus but in these circumstances that clearly wasn’t safe and besides, who else was going to be shuttling their bike around in a downpour?- and jumped back aboard. The driver was still stunned. I was a little, too, but I was nervous to meet my date and with the weather acting the way it was I’d closely resemble a drowned rat by the time I got to the restaurant, so I didn’t think any more of it.

I’ll have to regale my wrenches with my heroic bike tales the next time they are kindly greasing my chain, tightening my headset, retooling my gears or doing any of the other million wonders they do to keep my bicycle running. I can’t believe that after being picked up and slammed back down onto the bus’ bike rack it’s totally fine, but it is. That little Trek is awesome; I am really grateful every day for my awesome commuter.

My date didn’t mind that I resembled a waterlogged varmint. He’s a cyclist.

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My dad and I in South Carolina circa 2005. He first taught me to ride a bike, so it only seemed appropriate to end this way…

boyfriend (wanted?)

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i often gaze upward, as
sky holds such possibility

vague rumbles from my
growling belly say i probably forgot     -breakfast? lunch?
lost in my inner world; i often hum or whistle
just a few notes, not to upset anyone but
songs i like i’ll sing aloud
whoever the accidental audience

dad is dead but he always said i was
SO BEAUTIFUL and. it. stuck. mom says
i’m the scribe, and so i write, my family
sewn between the lines, and pages

i can be dramatic, social, attention-seeking but
as quickly solitary, needing space, seeming brooding
my best friend says he loves
my giant heart
my climbing partner admires my
unabashed optimism. my
spirit calls out to all living things so i
brand myself Buddhist
i love autumn, bright-burnished sunbeams painting
the long afternoons around
local crags before heading to
the Sun for a pint, and dinner

i know me a little, this
grammar nazi
dirtbag
runner
vocabularist
lover of all
liker of many
close to few but
omni-embracing

taking flight holds such
promise to me, i stretch this love with
yogic notions, stuntkite flights, rock climbing and
aerial arts, my Buddhist monk friend calls me dakini

you are simply
you and that’s perfectly enough, but i like
my face caressed, my smile held, my odd little
sense of humor, expansive when released, but it takes awhile, awakened
with your laughter
you are preferably
taller, with dark hair and light eyes, but not
necessarily, you take my love
in stride and hold
your own and together we
enjoy hourslong conversation and deepened silent moments, time
together become better by time
apart and warm, enlivened spaces
in our lives for
each careful, comfortable other

The Daily Page 1.20.2013: Sour Grapes

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“The phrase sour grapes is an expression originating from “The Fox and the Grapes,” one of Aesop’s Fables. It refers to pretending not to care for something one wants, but does not or cannot have.” -Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sour_grapes

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Trying to keep it light at work under harsh fluorescents and harsher criticism from whosever on the other end of that line…

I arrived at work this morning somewhat frantic, my mania involving mass-manufactured caffeine, a glance at the clock to tell me I was two minutes late already, and another cast at the call queue to notice we were thirteen deep on incoming and eleven on outbound callbacks. My supervisor today was Joe*, the big boss, my campaign’s account manager, who sported dirty-blond hair that seemed in need of washing about fifty percent of the time, and today, for good measure, an old tee shirt advertising a heavy-metal band that was about a size and a half too small for him and dirty jeans. He sported attractively-framed glasses as always, however, and a similarly omnipresent aloof attitude. My prevailing thought at
all of this was a reckless shit, a word banned from the call center floor along with any other profanity.

My current job lacks any of the lucrative trappings of any of my former employment situations: benefits, the hopes of a raise, mobility of any kind, personal satisfaction. About the closest to satisfaction we get are the ten-minute breaks snuck out in the alley, we smokers, sucking in tar and nicotine and spewing rants about work, home, life, bills, etc. And yet…it’s a job. It gives me something to do every day and almost pays my bills (but not quite. One of these days I’m sure I’ll be blogging from the library and the Internet will be the ONLY way to get ahold of me, as Verizon will have shut me down for good until I can pay my bundled phone/Internet bill.) For now I’m grateful to be employable, and employed, in an economy that doesn’t favor even those with resumes as comprehensive as my own. One of my few real bragging rights in the post-global economic meltdown world.

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Out back for a precious few minutes…

Mania compounded as I sat down in a cube next to my big blue-eyed, closed-cropped, well-muscled, completely adorable colleague, who aped at me as he finished a call, clicking his mute button to tell me, between phrases of apology and remuneration to the person at the other end of the phone, “Massive production issues with the Picayune Blotter”, “Power outage last night stopped paper production and half the papers didn’t get printed until this morning”, “Delivery pushed out until 1pm” and “oh and we’re down too”, meaning one of the computer applications we used internally to access client accounts was “undergoing routine maintenance” as I heard him tell a client. “Undergoing routine maintenance” is a well-known euphemism for “it’s fucked up, and tech support doesn’t know when it’ll be fixed, but they know it’s a major problem creating huge backloads of work, so they are busting ass to get it fixed”. Of course, we never tell clients that…

The Picayune Blotter** was probably the largest of eight publications my campaign worked on, all owned by a corporate media group that had spent the past year and a half or so alienating a substantial amount of its customer base in an industry already experiencing sharp declines. With the increasing accessibility and popularity of the Internet, newspapers just aren’t as important anymore, as evidenced by the relatively recent shuttering of one major publication without any warning at all in my area. Interestingly, the company I work for specializes in providing customer service and other support services specifically for the newspaper industry. As I’m sure they want to stay in business, they’re diversifying, but the bulk of the services we provide is to newspapers. This makes it especially interesting when subscribers, who call a local number to their area, start trying to talk about the weather or local news or politics, about which I, often having little idea about the news local to MY area, haven’t the slightest clue. Also, I’m trying to handle the call as quickly and politely as possible, so I don’t really care all that much about anything other than dealing with their issue…and taking the next call. During busy days I spend the bulk of my time feeling like I’m dodging bullets, foxholed up in my little nondescript beige cubicle. During slower days I remove my mala and do recitations between calls. I try not to invest more mental energy than it takes to be polite and pleasant and keep my head down.

Today was going to be different. Already one of the busiest days for the area of the country from which calls came into my campaign, our busy-ness was further compounded by the production problems for the Blotter and the tech problems (“routine maintenance”, as I heard one colleague after another drone apologetically into their headsets) on our end. I sighed and took my first call, from an angry man calling the free publications distributed weekly by the Blotter and its sisterhood of fellow area papers “litter” and denouncing their return to his street after calling for a month several months ago to get it to stop…only to see it start up again!!! “If this doesn’t quit,” he rasped, clearly disturbed on many levels by this reappearance of the Blotter-Trotter or whichever of the free papers it was, “I’m going to sit out there myself and wait for the carrier!” Whenever the carrier is threatened by a subscriber I can’t help but think of Granny Clampett and her shotgun…and so I apologized, cajoled, hung up and took the next call, from a subscriber demanding that I “call up my delivery boy and get his butt outta bed!” Oh, it was going to be a GOOD day…

I spent half of my time at work apologizing for the power outage and the other half doing the usual…taking payments, inputting vacation stops, accounting for idle threats and less-than-idle threats. I took calls from bewildered subscribers who hadn’t received their papers in months, bewildered subscribers who hadn’t received their papers in weeks, and bewildered subscribers whose papers were an hour late. I leave work every day shaking my head. Today I left shaking it vigorously. It hit me for sure when I got home: sour grapes. Most of my callers have an almost contentious tone to their voices: they already had it in for me, and all I wanted to do was help them. That was my job; the number they called was, in fact “customer service”. So often it seems like “outlet for general fury”. People who are pissed off about their lives, their jobs, their families, their kids, whatever, and then their newspaper is late. GOD DAMN IT!!! So it all gets unleashed…on the poor soul who answers their call to Customer Service. Damage Control. Carrier Protection. Anger Management from a thousand miles or so away.

2013-01-18_09-53-37_787

The Shambhala Center is less than half a block from my workplace. A healthy reminder to keep things in perspective; a comfortable, welcoming respite as well.

We get paid just above minimum wage. I’m pretty sure our salary grade should be closer to that of a clinical therapist. But that’s just my sour grapes, I guess. :)

*not his real name

**totally fictitious name for purposes of this post

The Daily Page 12.20.2012: An *Us* Revolution

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columbineSupposedly the world shifts in, according to Mountain Standard Time, less than two hours. I wonder at what this next evolution will bring. I DON’T believe it to be the end of the world, by any means; I was never into those kinds of hysterical activities in the first place. But I find myself getting quieter, listening more, paying better attention these past few months. An e-mail I just received courtesy of an organization of professional women in Boulder said something very similar, and it was interesting to

get another woman’s perspective that was very similar to mine: in a world that’s been constantly me-me-me, we’re going to have an us revolution. It will be quiet. It will be chaotic, at times, but as we realize more and more how universally connected we all are, communities will strengthen and the reign of the individual, the Narcissist’s Age, one might call it, will come to a close.

If not the rest of the world America certainly needs this. Our most recent election cycle still saw about half of the country depicting Socialism as though it were a) the same thing as Communism and b) a four-letter word. In a country where it takes tremendous violence to blast us out of our own little heads and our own little worlds, where the only time we all turn away from our i-devices, our Cloud addition, our Pinterest accounts, our Fantasy Football picks is when we find out that there was a massacre at an elementary school and most of the casualties were very young children and even THAT doesn’t hold our interest for too long; we have gone cold before the corpses of the first children have and back to our little worlds, we need, we NEED to grow our communities. All of the important devices, applications, software, etc. in use by hundreds of millions of Americans these days—not most, but ALL of them—point us towards building community. Pinterest. Facebook. Online news and comment forums such as CNN, MSNBC, The Guardian, NPR, Fox News, any major news site. Specialty “news” and other boutique sites. Websites we create for ourselves. Blogging. Tweeting. Posting photos on web-based sites such as photobucket or picasa. Sharing music through programs such as grooveshark. Even sending an email…to another person…or to every person in your universe.

It is this writer’s hope that we see more kindness. More welcoming. More idealism. More smiles. How hard is it to smile at someone even if you’re texting away on your iPhone and have your ears plugged with headphones but you pass by your neighbor, the one you never talk to and really haven’t met yet, even though you live next door to each other. How hard is it to smile, to say “good morning”, to bring a little cheer into another person’s day?

I currently work in a call center, and one of the specifics that we went through in training was to smile through the phone calls. It’s an inbound call center so, lacking the brutality of cold-calling, I find it relatively easy to smile. What I found difficult the other day was keeping the tears IN my eyes as a customer explained how, at 86 years old, he was getting married. His proposal was so incredibly eloquent I’ve been kicking myself for now writing down the second half of it, but it began with “Violets are blue, roses are red, I think it’d be great, if we were to wed”. They’re marrying on

January 1, 2013. She’s the Sunday-school teacher at his church, and all of the kids in the Sunday school class were in on it when he proposed to her. He gave me the miniature version of the story while on the phone with me; afterwards I had to stop myself and take pause. A customer service call can do it too, no fancy applications needed.

Some of the Free Huggers: Me, Nels, and a couple of little kids who loved what we were doing & joined up with us!

I remember when we put together the first Free Hugs weekend in Boulder during the Fall Festival in front of the Boulder Café. It wasn’t too long after Juan Mann’s Free Hugs video went viral and we were a bit nervous but somehow, the chief organizer, Bobalicious, got someone to donate a few crates of bottled water. Our pitches, especially as we’d make eye contact with people, went “Free Hugs! Free Hugs! You don’t want a hug? OK, well would you like some water?” It was a really hot early fall weekend in Boulder and people were stunned that we were just handing out water. After they took the bottles from us we’d grin a bit and ask, “NOW do you want a hug?” I don’t think the return rate was 100%, but it was probably around 97% or above. It was the most phenomenal feeling, all those people, from little kids to little old ladies hugging us and hugging them back. Occasionally one or a couple of us would break away and walk up and down the Pearl Street Mall still calling out “Free Hugs! Free Hugs!”. I’ll never forget the two guys who decided to sandwich me by pranking me: one darted in front of me, then turned around when his buddy behind me called his name in mock-surprise. They smushed me between them, and soon all three of us were laughing deliciously. I’ve never felt so good in my life as I did leaving Free Hugs both days that weekend. It was a luminous feeling. I hear it’s a big thing in Boulder now…and if there’s not a Free Hugs campaign going on in Fort Collins I may just have to start one.Free hugs Dondi

As we move forward in time, space and through the end of the Mayan calendar I know that we, as human beings, are capable of so much more love, so much more compassion, so much more caring, so much more support, so much MORE. Let’s start proving it.

I would love for this blog post to be read by as many people as possible. If you enjoy what you’ve read here please let me know and please feel free to share with anyone you think might enjoy it as well. Blessings and peace to you all. Om mani padme hum.

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