28 December 2013

Which Downton Abbey Character Would You Be?

I just took the WETA Boston (PBS) Masterpiece "Downton Abbey" Personality Quiz. I thought I might be one of the daughters or one of the servants. Nope. The quiz set me as Robert, Earl of Grantham. The top guy, and the biggest "stick in the mud." What? It says that I am old-fashioned, with honor and duty as my highest values. OK. Yeah, honor and duty and integrity are important to me. It says that though I might have a cork up my *** (well, it didn't really say that), I "can be extremely generous and forgiving" to those who "have earned" my loyalty. OK, I'd like to believe that's true. And, well, I can be a stickler for rules sometimes.

But I decided to take the quiz again, just in case I drew a better character. I answered some of the questions differently, with my second choice of attributes. The result: Lady Sybil Crawley. She's a great character — one of my most favorite on the show. But I don't think I am any more like her than I am her father. On the other hand, if you put me in that upper class family at the end of World War I, I might certainly have been a bit of a rebel and more interested in compassion and social justice than in my family's money and good name.

So which character would I want to be? Anna (a lady's maid and probably is the most likable and respected of the characters) would be my first choice. I'd like to think I'd have her character and her work ethic. I'd like to think I could come from humble beginnings and that with hard work and integrity, I could rise in my profession. My goal would be to become the housekeeper like Mrs. Hughes or (not portrayed as yet in this series) the governess.

For some reason I don't quite understand, I have always felt that I am of the "servant class." Even though I have a master's degree (in journalism), I identify with the roles I played while earning my degrees: maid and housekeeper. I enjoyed those roles, for the most part — I liked making things nice for folks, knowing that when they came home they would be cheered by a more beautiful environment. So, that's why I would choose to be a housekeeper or maid.

On the other hand, I wonder if I would chafe a bit in a role that was not mine by choice so much as by station. I think I would want an outlet for my intelligence and creativity. I'm not just satisfied with doing well at work; thus, among other things, this blog. I might have been a writer. Or if I ventured out in the 1920s like so many women did, I like to imagine that I might have been a private detective and psychologist like Maisie Dobbs, a brilliant character created by Jacqueline Winspear.

The fact that I have the time to actually think and write about this stuff means that I am not truly servant class. Folks these days in those sorts of jobs most likely are not making very good salaries and maybe even have to work two jobs in order to keep their heads above water. Of course, this is a bit of a generalization, but imagine if you work so hard all you want to do when you get home is go to sleep — you'll realize that this sort of introspection and, well, day-dreaming, is actually quite a luxury.

But maybe if I could have been a governess, I might have had the best of both worlds. Or the worst, depending on the children and their parents!

Who would you most like to be like? Least like? I'm sure a lot of folks would put the character of Miss O'Brien at the bottom of their list. She's definitely at mine.

Oh, by the way, here's another PBS personality quiz. This one shows me as being most suited to Isobel Crawley's role: roll up my sleeves and get things done. OK, I can see that. I can also see that while my heart is almost always "in the right place" I might still be a bit of a "bossy pants." And that brings me back to Lord Grantham's character, a stickler for rules and duty. I think I need to go out and have some fun!

25 September 2013

Peaceful Waters Slowly Returning to Boulder

Buddy almost asleep in South Boulder Creek. Photo by keagiles.
This is an old photo of my golden retriever, Buddy, relaxing in the cool, clear, calm waters of South Boulder Creek at Bobolink Trail in Boulder, Colorado, USA. After the overwhelming flooding this month (Sept. 2013), I just wanted to post a water photo that feels peaceful and hopeful.

09 August 2013

Do Friendships Endure?

Today I had lunch with a good friend whom I hadn't seen in years, even though we both live in the same town. Life took us in different directions, but now I think is the time for us to come together again. This, and the fact that my best friend for the past few years is moving away has gotten me thinking a lot about friendship, making friends, renewing old friendships, keeping friendships, and loss.

I have lost a lot of friends in my life, but the converse is also true. I have made a lot of friends.

From the time I was six, my family went through so many changes that I was moving from town to town, school to school, almost every year.

I first remember making friends in second grade, when I lived in Boulder, Colorado, with my grandmother. I went to Flatirons Elementary, and my friends were Cory and Cory. Funny, but true. At one Cory's house, we enjoyed baking and Brownies (the young-girl's version of Girl Scouts) activities. At the other Cory's house, we'd "play Barbie's" on the steps and chitter chatter as girls do.

But then it was time to move. The first half of third grade, I lived in Whittier, California, with my mom and dad. My friends were Mary Ann (from Cuba — her name was pronounced "Ma-di-ayn"  and we taught each other our languages) and a couple of other kids whose names I don't remember. I had a crush on a boy named David.

But then it was time to move. I began the second half of third grade in Cupertino, California. I don't remember any friends for the second half of third grade, but by fourth grade, I was making loads of friends again. Friends at this school included a boy from the UK who taught me how to play chess; Guy, the only black kid in our school (I think); Leonora, and Julie. Julie was my best, best friend. I went to her house to "play Barbie's" a lot, and I remember her mom was very nice to me. Her mom was Japanese, and she even made us a pretty lunch one day on trays with tea and rice. I never felt so special. I still really, really miss Julie.

But then it was time to move. At some point during third or fourth grade, my mother had decided to move out. Finally, my parents divorced for the second time, and eventually, my dad found someone else to marry. We moved to her place in San José, California, where I started fifth grade. I don't remember the name of my best friend there, but I remember how fun it was when folks mistook us for sisters.

But then it was time to move. I finished the second half of fifth grade in Eureka, California, where we lived with my dad and his wife. I made several friends, even my first "boyfriend," Conrad Cooper. Again, I don't remember any of the other kids' names, but along with my brothers and step-brothers, I remember quite a crowd of kids to hang out with.

But then it was time to move. I finished the second half of sixth grade in Sebastopol, California, while living with my mom. This is where I made several friends and a few enemies. Julie, Corissa, Tony, Cheryl, and I were a tight group. I had a crush on an Asian boy named Wendall. Enemies included a boy whose name I don't remember, but who lived near me and often tried to ambush me to beat me up. I got really good at getting home fast by different routes. Two girls were also "enemies": Marcella and Tina. Marcella once picked on Corissa so bad that I challenged her to a fight, saying if she wanted to pick on someone, she should pick on me. But I never showed up for the fight. Tina once cornered me with her brother and a friend of his, and slapped me in the face while they held my arms. To this day, I hate the names Tina and Marcella. I was at this school through 7th grade.

But then it was time to move. This time, we got a house with my mom's boyfriend in Walnut Creek, California. I went to eighth grade at Pleasant Hill Intermediate, and got involved with yearbook and journalism projects. Friends were two girls fresh from Vietnam whose names I don't remember, and then Debbie, Kelly, and Mary.

We all moved up to Pleasant Hill High School together. But then it was time to move.

Briefly, we lived in Novato, California, and in 9th grade at a junior high, I made one friend with whom I rode bikes and played pinball games (at the local A&W).

But then it was time to move. Luckily, we moved back to Walnut Creek, and I went back to Pleasant Hill High School. I was still friends with Kelly, but we grew apart, and I made new friends: Masako, Lisa, Seong Min, Joel, JoAnne, and Ana Maria Beltrán. Ana was an exchange student from Santiago, Chile, and we struck a very strong bond.

But then it was time to move again. This time, it was my choice. I would rather have stayed at Pleasant Hill High School and been a member of the final graduating class (the school closed in 1980), but my mother was planning to move to Escondido, California. Instead, I opted to move back with my grandmother in Boulder, Colorado, and did my senior year at Boulder High. Friends there were Amy, Janet, Petra, and a few other people with whom I shared a girl's counseling club (we were training to be peer counselors). I also had an acquaintance in my Spanish club, Patty Doherty, who would be my roommate my sophomore year of college (at CU-Boulder).

In college, I was lucky to have a scholarship and the money to live in the dorms. More friends followed. I am no longer in touch with any of them except Patty via Christmas cards and Diana (with whom I shared an apartment after college) through Christmas cards and Facebook. I have even reconnected with Ana via Facebook (she still lives in Santiago, Chile — which is on my must-visit list).

As an adult, friends have come and gone. Each time, it has been hard making friends and hard losing them. Now my best friend is moving away, and I'm feeling a lot of grief. But with that grief is opportunity — I can always fly to visit her after she moves. And now I have the time to reconnect with this old friend from my younger days here in Boulder.

Looking on the bright side, however, does not and should not negate the grief. Each friend lost adds to a list of losses — of people I still hold dear and miss each day. If there's a "moral" to this story, it's this: Friends never really leave you, even though they may leave a little hole in your heart when you are separated. And I should know.

14 July 2013

Can a Short Vacation Change Your Life?

The short answer: Yes.

The long answer: I believe that every day, every moment, your life is changing. That may be pretty simplistic — of course, it's another day — you're one day older; you wake up with a new dream to remember; you stubbed your toe and that kept you from going for that hike during which you would have broken your leg; your car took three tries to start, and that meant you missed the terrible accident on the highway; you smiled at someone on your walk and changed both your moods — I could go on, but you get the idea.

The photo above is of the Pacific Ocean as seen from our table at El Avion restaurant near Quepos, Costa Rica. Bear and I took our vacation in Costa Rica this past June (21–27). We went to El Avion restaurant three times, mostly because of this view. Sitting there, with this expansive view, I felt expansive, and relaxed in my soul and body.  Perhaps that's what the "Ticos" (native Costa Ricans) mean by "Pura Vida," a common phrase there, which literally translated means "pure life" but can also mean "life is good" or "it's all good," phrases common here, at least in Colorado.

Each moment in Costa Rica changed me. First, I learned that my Spanish "works." I've studied Spanish since high school, almost earning a B.A. in Spanish (one more semester would have done it, but I was done with academia [I'd already earned enough credits for a B.A. in English and psychology]). Other events and experiences in my life improved my Spanish, but I had no idea of how well I would be able to communicate in Costa Rica. Lucky for me, the Ticos seem to speak at a normal pace, not at light-speed like Mexicans and Dominicans. Or maybe they were slowing things down just for me. In any case, I appreciated it. And they were very gracious about my Spanish, telling me I spoke very well. That made me feel really proud of myself and also has pushed me to learn even more. I now listen to the podcasts "News in Slow Spanish" (Spain Spanish) and "News in Slow Spanish - Latino" (for Latin-American Spanish). I highly recommend this approach, and especially the Latino version because that is what is used most on this hemisphere. If you buy a subscription, you can even follow along with a transcript on their website, with certain words and phrases translated if you hover your cursor over them. (I'm also watching "Primer Impacto," a Univision news show, via Hulu.)

In Costa Rica, we saw monkeys and alligators and lots of iguanas, lizards, and geckos. Plus, we heard a lot of birdsong. I bought an album on iTunes of Costa Rican sounds — the natural sounds of the wildlife, the ocean, and the rain. It's "Costa Rica" by Beto Bertonlini. So this has changed the soundscape of my life. I'm listening to it right now, and it just so happens that the Manuel Antonio Park beach theme has come up. Sounds just like when we were there! Ocean surf, birds, some monkeys in the distance. Pictured here are a couple of squirrel monkeys (mom with a baby on her back). Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most-visited natural conservation areas in the country and has a couple of really nice beaches, plus wildlife in every direction.

Taking these pictures and seeing creatures I had never seen before adds a rich layer to my life memories. And I also learned that I love, more than anything else, to be outdoors. We were visiting during the beginning of the rainy season. One day, we had the most awesome thunder and lightning storm with sheets of rain crashing down from the sky. My husband and I sat out on our balcony enjoying the cacophony for at least an hour until the roof over our balcony started to leak. How wonderful! I remember that as one of our best days.

On our last day before traveling back to the airport (3-hr drive) and flying home (several more hours), we decided to go on a mangrove tour by boat. I wasn't sure I'd like this — I was picturing lots of bugs and dangerous alligators, but I was also ready for something new. It was fantastic! We had lunch first, a meal the Ticos call the "casado," which is a marriage (casado) of rice/beans and chicken. It was really good. Next, onto the boat, a small, covered boat that brought us close to the water and close to the mangroves. The guide was fluent in both English and Spanish, and we were lucky enough to have two tourists on the boat from Spain, so I got to hear everything explained in both languages. I've posted four videos on YouTube of the mangroves (manglares) and the guide's discussion in both languages. I also got some really good photos during this tour, many of which are posted on my flickr page. We saw some birds that were really difficult to photograph, iguanas, crabs, bats, and a monkey (the monkey pictured here is a cheeky little Capuchin that dodged onto the boat and stole a fig). I didn't see any bugs or beasts of prey. Below is one of my favorite photos from the tour. You have to look very closely to see what is there, and I bet that's the way it is all through the mangrove canals.

The mangrove tour struck me in a way that no environmental conservation messaging group in the States could. The guide explained that these trees (there are four kinds: black, white, piña, and red) are sort of the last bastions of a healthy ecosystem in this area; they act as filters for our air and water, and support the lives of many and diverse animals. Costa Rica only has about a fourth of the mangrove trees it started with, but now these areas are protected. I admire Costa Rica for its conservation efforts. It truly is a rich country in this regard.

I've been to a place I never would have thought of going before, had it not been for my husband's suggestion. Now I want to go back. With so many natural wonders, you could spend a lot of time in Costa Rica without seeing the same thing. I am now so enthusiastic about seeing new places, that this has changed my thought process regarding possessions. Now every time I look at my 17-year-old Geo Prizm with its fading paint job and rusty hood, I think, "Now that's a vacation!" That is, every car payment I'm NOT making (the car is paid for) is money that I can put toward a vacation. So, I'm starting a vacation fund rather than a buy-a-new-car fund. And that makes me smile.

Yes, even a short vacation will change your life — in myriad little ways, and in ways that will carry you through to more adventures and strengthen your sense of Pura Vida!

09 March 2013

What's the Greatest Moment of Your Life?

The sun shining through smoke from a wildland grassfire. Photo by keagiles.
I recently saw this question, "What was the greatest moment of your life?," on a blog post as I was flipping through my Google Reader list. I can't tell you which blog it was or what the author meant by the question — that is, the context. But the question stayed with me enough that I wrote it down and posted it on my desk.

Since then, I've been going over the question in my mind. What IS the greatest moment of my life?

Thankfully, the first answer I come to is when I met my husband. I knew on our first date, when I looked into his blue eyes, that he was someone special, someone with whom I wanted a serious relationship. Amazing that it happened that way, but it did. It hasn't always been smooth sailing, but what relationship doesn't go through problems? And we're the stronger because of it. So another great moment in my life was marrying this man and sharing in an adventurous honeymoon cruise up the Inside Passage from Vancouver to Alaska.

This is good, right? To have such a ready, and wonderful, answer. But I'm disappointed in myself. My answer is so, well, normal, expected, stereotypical. Not that it makes it any less true, of course.

So I'm trying to dig a little deeper. What else could be considered "greatest moments" in my life? The answer: some of the worst moments of my life. Irreconcilable differences, I call them. And here's one example:

My last job, which I left more than 12 years ago, was intense and rewarding. For the first five years, I loved it. I was really, really good at it. I even got an award for employee of the month, which at that place was an almost impossible accomplishment. Then I applied for and received a promotion and transfer to a different department (just a desk-width away from where I had been working). My hours changed (from swing shift to 9 to 5; I always preferred swing shift), my relationship with my coworkers changed, and, of course, my responsibilities and job duties changed. Now I can look back and see that I wasn't cut out for the new job, even though I was still very good at it and learned a lot. Problems with workplace politics and interpersonal conflicts increased, as if my desk were across a divide and on another plane of existence. For the next four and a half years, I struggled on the job, and finally, the day happened. The day that changed everything. I made a decision to complain about someone's sexual commentary casually delivered in front of me and several personnel from my old department. Folks turned on me. Before I even knew I had made an official complaint of sexual harassment (because I had not [I thought I was talking friend to friend]), I was being blamed for doing so. Former friends made up stories about me. Things went south. I was so upset that I started a no-win argument with my boss, a coworker, and our superior. A no-win argument of asking for a transfer to a different department and being told "at this point, I couldn't recommend you to anyone." I could see nothing else to do, no way forward, so I left. Packed up my desk and walked out the door.

That was a horrible day. But it's also one of the top five greatest moments of my life — because I left. I left the most intense workplace you can imagine — with such highs and lows that we were all like family. You don't betray your family. You don't mess with the unspoken rules. You stick together. You don't single yourself out and let people get the better of you emotionally — you don't make it easy for them to turn on you.

Now I have a good job, doing what I was meant to do: I'm an editor. I wouldn't have gotten this job ten years ago, and the community college teaching job 12 years ago, if I hadn't walked out that dark day. I'm not serving my fellow human beings in the same way I had then, but I am serving myself much better. I am who I was meant to be: more joyful, wiser, stronger, saner.

The worst thing that happens on my job now is a bitter intellectual argument that gets people's feathers ruffled. It's hard to bear at the time, mostly because I simply do not understand why people get so angry.  Life is so much deeper than an academic argument, so much wider than the gulf between two philosophies. Workplace politics will always baffle me (and sometimes make me cry). But the job, applying my skills to the task at hand, helping to make what other people do just a little better and better known, makes me happy, and what I do makes others happy too — fulfilling a need and playing out a part in what for some people is the greatest focus of their lives, the means to perhaps the greatest moments of their lives.

09 February 2013

Time Passing

For my 50th birthday back in August, Bear and I took a road trip down to Durango, Colorado, with stops in Salida, Colorado, and Farmington, New Mexico. It was supposed to be a celebration, but for various reasons, it turned out to be a difficult trip for the both of us. I think when I try to force something to be very, very good, I usually get too uptight to let it be what it is.

We did have some beautiful vistas on our trip, especially when we decided to drive the "Million Dollar Highway" (U.S. Route 550). The picture at left shows one of our favorite stops (we went there twice that week): Andrews Lake (with Snowdon Peak in the background). We plan to go back there this coming summer to hike from Andrews Lake to Crater Lake and take another drive along the highway to really enjoy it without pressure to make it "the best birthday trip ever."

But this post isn't about my birthday or about the drive. It's a consideration of how I think sometimes: That the hotel room, the incidentals, the ability to take perfect photographs, how I look, really matters more than enjoying time with my husband and with myself for that matter, at peace in my own body. For instance, we were to meet a friend of Bear's and some of his family for drinks and nachos... I panicked. I didn't have anything to wear, I didn't look right, I couldn't do it, I just couldn't do it. I forced Bear to go shopping with me for new clothes and a new camera (because everything had to be perfect and my Canon G11 had a scratch on the lens...). When we got to the restaurant and met Bear's friend, I immediately relaxed. These people were really nice. They weren't there to judge what I was wearing or how much I weighed or anything else for that matter. It was a happy, congenial setting. Bear had someone to talk to about computer stuff and work, and one of the women wanted to talk to me about my recent back surgery, because she was considering back surgery too. They were accepting and interested. It was a great time, cut too short because they had other commitments.  They had taken time out of their day to get together with us, and I had made way too big a deal out of it. Later that evening, Bear was really sick. We chalked it up to the food, but now I know it was all the stress I was venting.

Why am I confessing all this in a public blog? Because I developed this blog just for this purpose — for examining the conflict that we have within ourselves — using the metaphor of "Dragonfly Wars."

The second best part of the trip was visiting with my dad (Ernie) and his wife (Betty). Driving down to their place, enjoying their garden and the many hummingbirds buzzing about, getting to eat great barbecued chicken courtesy my dad and tender corn on the cob courtesy Betty — this is the good life. One of the reasons I wanted to head south from our place was to spend some time with Dad and Betty. When things went wrong with our hotel room, instead of trying to make it perfect again, we should have taken my dad up on his offer to stay in Farmington. Another error.

What I want this coming summer is a chance to recreate the good parts of that trip, without trying to force it to be GOOD, and FUN, and full of opportunities to take "PERFECT pictures." I want to enjoy the motion of the car as we drive, the book that we choose to listen to along the way, and the company of my husband, friends, and relatives. I want to take care of myself by eating right (no sugar, little alcohol) and taking time to calm down. I want to see my husband happy.

That's a lot of wants. How can I erase all the wants and still make it a good trip? Remember the dragonfly. The adult dragonfly has a lifespan of only five to six months. During that time, its fragile beauty, the glint of sunlight on its wings, its flight as it catches insects and alights on prairie grasses — it is what it is, and that is all.

Even as I write this I'm aware that I'm trying too hard. I want to go back over the paragraphs to perfect my writing. The paragraph above has too many "its" in it. Take a deep breath, Kea. Let it be. Publish the post as an exercise in imperfection.