Working Across Time and Across Generations

My husband and I recently were fortunate to have visits from our two adult children. Our son came for a few days at the end of April, and our daughter was here over Mother’s Day.

My parents and me on one of my solo visits

I remember my mother telling me one time how nice it was to have her children visit by themselves, without their siblings and without their spouses and children. She said she enjoyed being able to talk with each child by himself or herself. And now that my children are grown, I have the same feeling. It is nice to have a crowd around sometimes—over the holidays, in particular—but the one-on-one time is also special.

On these recent visits, it occurred to me how different my life is now than my children’s. And how different their lives are than my life was when I was their age (in my thirties). Each of them spent most of the weekdays they were here on their laptops working. My daughter has billable hour requirements she has to meet, and my son wanted to minimize the vacation days he had to take. Even when they are in their home cities, my children spend some days working from their homes (my son regularly, and my daughter occasionally), so their time in my house probably didn’t seem unusual to them.

In my thirties, I, too, was focused on my career, even though I had kids at that age and they do not. But it was easier in the 1980s and ’90s to separate work and family time. When I was at work, I worked. I didn’t have social media accounts to check, and I had almost no personal email in those days. When I was at home, I dealt with family and household issues. My thoughts might have sometimes been on what I needed to do at the office, but I didn’t have Internet connections and 24/7 smartphone access tethering me to the job. On vacations, I only checked voice mail occasionally.

I could get away from work, at least for a few days. My children do not have that luxury. They have separate work and home laptops, but they have access to everything everywhere.

And my time now? I no longer work solidly from 8:00am to 6:00pm on weekdays, plus several hours on the weekends. My time is flexible, and that flexibility is the primary reason I retired. But I still consider myself to be working. I work as a writer and blogger. I serve on committees for charitable organizations. I take on occasional paid mediation cases. But for the most part, my time is my own to schedule. When I am too busy, I have only myself to blame.

Moreover, I set annual objectives for myself—how much I will write, what marketing I will do, and what volunteer commitments I will make. I also set objectives for family activities. I mark my progress toward all my objectives twice a month, with a formal review about quarterly.

For example, I try to work on writing about 30 hours a week. But that time seems to dissipate in meetings and webinars and blog posts, instead of getting applied toward my novel. In the past two months, I added about 35,000 words to the novel. Not bad, but I wanted to be finished with this first draft by now, and I still have about 10,000 words to go. I will not meet my objective on my novel this quarter.

The result of all this monitoring is that I’m getting far more performance management than I ever got while employed. Even if now I’m managing myself.

I wrote in a recent journal entry, “Retirement life is harder than I thought.” I have to work to retain the flexibility I want while still feeling that I am productive and growing. “How do I find a sense of balance?” I wrote to myself. “Is it elusive in every life and at every stage of life?”

I suppose the answer to each part of this question is yes.

Still, I am glad I do not have a full-time job anymore. Flexibility in work—as in all things—is a benefit. Whether balance comes with it or not.

How has your life changed over the years?


Are You Celebrating National Relaxation Day Today?

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I learned recently that August 15 is National Relaxation Day—a day is set aside to slow down, unwind, and relax.  We are advised to avoid stress, not work late, and rest when work is over.

What an odd notion—that we need a day each year devoted to relaxation. Whatever happened to “on the seventh day God rested”? I thought we got a day every week to relax.

Of course, I do not typically exercise my weekly option. When I was working, I was at the office at least six days a week, and scurried around the house on the other day doing chores like laundry and grocery shopping. Now that I’m retired, there is no boundary between work and life—work/life balance means nothing.

wineglass A819A004C3In fact, today, August 15, I start with an obligation at 8:30 in the morning, and my day will continue past midnight when I have to pick up a relative at the airport. I do get to attend a social event in the evening, but I’ll have to curtail the wine I drink because of my late night to follow. In between my morning meeting and my social event, I need to get the guest room ready for guests, edit several chapters of my work-in-progress, and follow-up on a couple of marketing efforts for my last novel.

Ironic—Relaxation Day is likely to be one of my longest and busiest days in months.

I can’t complain about my life in general, not compared to when I was working. Most mornings I get up when I want to, then read the newspaper and do the sudoku before moving on to writing. Most days I stop work at 4:00 or 5:00, with my only obligation for the rest of the day being to fix dinner. In the evenings, I can read or watch a movie, though I often find myself writing blog posts or editing just one more chapter before I relax.

So take a Relaxation Day? Not often. And not this August 15.

But I’ll mark my calendar now for 2017. If I schedule it a year in advance, perhaps it will happen.

What is your favorite relaxation activity? And will you get to do it on Relaxation Day?

Pool Days . . . Guilt-Free

J & T in pool cropped 2

My son and me in his grandparents’ pool

My in-laws put a swimming pool in their back yard the summer after my first child was born. I’m not a good swimmer, but I love hanging out by pools, at least until my fair skin starts to burn.

J & Grandpa in pool close up.jpg

Baby son with Grandpa in the pool

It was wonderful to have a place to go to relax on summer weekends. We could only get away from home one weekend a month or so, but it was a nice escape from city and work. Usually, my husband and I and our baby son traveled together to visit his parents, but sometimes when my husband had his Naval Reserve drill weekend, I’d take our son and go by ourselves. It made my life easier to have my in-laws help take care of the baby while my husband was out of town.

This pattern continued once our daughter came along three years later. By that time, my workload had really picked up, and I couldn’t go away for the weekend very often, even on Reserve weekends. But if my parents-in-law would keep the kids for the following week—now that was motivation to make the trip!

My daughter says today that I wanted to get rid of my kids whenever I could. That wasn’t really true. I liked my kids.( I still like my kids.) But it was much easier to deal with kids or work than both at the same time.

Besides, the kids loved spending time with their grandparents—often with their cousins as well.

And I remembered visiting my grandparents in Pacific Grove for a month at a time in the summer and loving every minute of it. Beaches might beat swimming pools, but both are nice.

I didn’t think my kids were suffering when they stayed with my in-laws for a week. Not only could they play in the swimming pool every day, but they also had poolside picnic lunches, daily trips to the Red Cross Pharmacy for ice cream, and Coke floats many evenings. No, they weren’t suffering.

So despite my daughter’s attempts to guilt me into thinking I was a bad mother, I have no regrets about taking them to spend a week with their grandparents.

What do you remember about spending time with your grandparents growing up?

A Tale of Two Retirements

I retired nine years ago from my corporate job to become a writer. My husband retired from his law firm a little more than a year ago. So how is our retirement working out?

As I intended, writing has been my primary activity for the past nine years. In the first six months after I retired, I drafted a novel. It was a very rough first draft, because I didn’t know what I was doing. I also read books on writing, and after I completed the first draft, I launched into revisions.

LMH front cover Facebook optimum 600After about a year writing on my own, I discovered a local writing group. Their encouragement and advice made all the difference. (Well, more experience and several more drafts helped, too.) I’ve now published two novels and drafted a third.

By now, I feel I’ve fully engaged as a writer. I’ve had short fiction and essays accepted by Chicken Soup for the Soul and other publications. I’ve won a few regional writing contests and placed in several others. I was an occasional newspaper columnist for one year. I’m a member of two great critique groups, a larger writing community, and also an epublishing and marketing discussion group. Although my pace isn’t always what I want, I have learned a tremendous amount in the past nine years and found friends and colleagues with similar interests.

I had also hoped to build a part-time mediation practice, but that has not come to pass. I mediate occasionally, but not as much as I had planned. Still, I’ve made a conscious decision that writing is more important to me. When there is a conflict between these two parts of my world, I usually choose writing. I know I would rather be writing than mediating, even if my legal and dispute resolution skills are a part of me also.

During my retirement, I’ve also served on boards I enjoyed and boards I have not enjoyed. I’ve tried to arrange my time to include only activities that I care about. Sometimes it has worked and sometimes it has not. Reshaping my daily agenda is a work in progress.

And I’ve assisted family members on both happy and sad occasions. I’ve traveled to weddings, reunions, and holiday celebrations. I’ve helped family members cope with accidents, surgery, dementia, and death.

IMG_2152Meanwhile, during his first year of retirement, my husband became more active in several organizations he’s been a part of for years, from an area rowing club to the Coast Guard Auxiliary to a large metropolitan nonprofit. He began chairing a local foundation board. He bought a boat, which he has used for both personal and Coast Guard Auxiliary activities.

He also hung around the house and complained to me about our slow desktop computer. (By default, I am our primary technical support.) We ate lunch together some days, though evening activities have kept our dinners together from becoming more frequent.

Then this past October, a year after my husband retired, his law firm asked him to come back to work. The attorney who had picked up most of his practice was on maternity leave, and several matters were pending when she left. So for the past three months, he has gone to his office most weekdays, which gave him the advantage of much better technical support and a free copy machine.

Langley for Xmas ltr 2015His temporary assignment started just before Langley, our daughter’s dog, arrived. When I agreed to take the dog, I had anticipated that my husband would be around to help, but I ended up being the primary dog sitter. (Though he did some 5:00am wake-up calls, and even early morning walks.)

“How much longer will you be working?” I asked my husband recently.

He shrugged. “Till sometime in February, maybe.” He didn’t seem to be too concerned. Of course, the winter isn’t a good time for boating anyway. And there is that free technical support.

So, how is our retirement working out?

It’s a work in progress. As are most things in life. It will probably be different in another year than it has been thus far. Maybe better, maybe not. We can never shape our lives to be exactly what we want.

When has one of your life transitions not worked out the way you expected?

Retelling Tales: My Grandfather the Salesman

My grandfather, Laverne Ernst Claudson

My grandfather, Laverne Ernst Claudson

I’ve written before that my paternal grandfather, Laverne Ernst Claudson, was the grandparent I knew the least. Both of my grandmothers overshadowed their husbands in my young life, and I spent more time with my maternal grandparents as a child than I did my father’s parents, so I never felt I knew my Papa Verne very well.

When I was a small child, I knew my grandfather worked as a traveling salesman in the Pacific Northwest. He was based out of Vancouver, Washington, and called on retail stores in Washington and Oregon. I knew he handled the Carters line of children’s underwear and pajamas, because he kept my brother and me well-supplied. All our footie pajamas came from him as birthday and Christmas presents.

I learned much later from my father that Papa Verne loved to sell and worked in sales most of his career. When my father was small, Papa Verne ran the Woolworth’s store in Pratt, Kansas. Later, he managed stores in the Los Angeles area.

When my father, known then as Tommie, was in high school, Papa Verne ran a five-and-dime store in Klamath Falls, Oregon. In his teenage years, Tommie worked in his father’s store on weekday afternoons and on weekends. I don’t think Tommie enjoyed sales, but he learned some good lessons from his father, which my father later told me.

One lesson was about pricing. Tommie found out that the wholesale price of a pack of gum was two cents, and his father was selling it for ten cents. Tommie thought that was highway robbery. He told his father that the ten-cent price was taking advantage of his friends who came in the store and bought the gum.

Papa Verne took his indignant son into the back room of the store and opened the ledgers. He showed Tommie what he paid in wages, rent, and other expenses. By the end of that lesson, Tommie decided the ten cent price was quite reasonable.

Another lesson my grandfather taught was that the customer is always right. A five-and-dime store in a small town in the 1950s carried some of everything. Tommie was stocking shelves for his father one day, and a customer picked up a ceramic pan. “What a nice vase this will make,” she exclaimed.

“But that’s a—” stock boy Tommie started to say.

Papa Verne interrupted his son and told the woman to bring her vase to the cash register.

After the sale was completed, Tommie said to his father, “But that wasn’t a vase. It was a bedpan.”

“If she wants to call it a vase, who am I to tell her it isn’t?” my grandfather replied. “A sale is a sale.”

And that’s how my dad learned the customer is always right.

Today, November 9, 2015, would have been Papa Verne’s 106th birthday. He worked until he retired at age 65, and he died in February 1975 before he reached his 66th birthday.

What family stories do you know about your grandparents’ occupations?

A Halloween Spin

The clown costume my daughter wore. There might be a picture of her in it somewhere. I hope there isn't a picture of me in my clown costume.

The clown costume my daughter wore. There might be a picture of her in it somewhere. I hope there isn’t a picture of me in my clown costume.

As I’ve written before, I don’t usually dress up in costume on Halloween. But one year I did. It was the year my daughter wore a homemade clown costume, a hand-me-down from her cousin. When I told a friend at work that my daughter was going to be a clown, she volunteered she had an adult-sized clown costume I could borrow, so my daughter and I could both be clowns.

She wouldn’t let me say no. So I was a clown that year.

That was also the autumn I first had vertigo.

I distinctly remember my thoughts the morning I woke up with vertigo, because it was so unexpected. It happened during a frantic time at work. I was part of a large team of attorneys handling a major lawsuit that was in the throes of both discovery and settlement discussions. We spent our days scheduling depositions, producing rooms full of documents, and arguing coverage with insurance companies. I wasn’t sleeping well.

On this particular morning I woke up feeling surprisingly refreshed. “This will be a good day,” I told myself when I first awakened.

Then I sat up.

The room spun. “Low blood pressure,” I assured myself. “It will pass.”

I laid back on the bed, then slowly sat up again.

The room spun again. “I don’t have time for this,” I admonished my body. But the room kept spinning.

I stayed home from work that day, but the next day, because I really didn’t have time for this, I went to work.

The vertigo didn’t bother me when I drove, and I made it to the office fine. I could sit at my desk and read, and I dove into the papers piled up in my office. But if I stood up and looked down, the room spun. When I visited other peoples’ offices, I had to grab at their furniture or I would fall over when I tried to read while standing.

A mirror similar to the ones I bumped into

A mirror similar to the ones I bumped into

The vertigo also bothered me when I walked. I couldn’t always keep to a straight line. I had to attend meetings in other parts of the corporate complex, which were best reached by traipsing from building to building through the connected parking garage. This parking garage had safety mirrors, which, as I discovered, were set at five feet off the ground.

How did I discover the height of the mirrors? Well, I’m five-foot-one (probably five-foot-three in the heels I wore), and I walked into the mirrors in several occasions during those weeks. The blows to my head made me even more disoriented than my weaving gait.

Now, how does all this relate to the clown costumes?

Well, that was also the year I worked the Halloween party at my kids’ school. My son was in grade school, and my daughter was no older than kindergarten, maybe still in preschool. The party was an effort to keep the kids in a safe environment. Lots of candy. Lots of games. Parent chaperons to run the games.

I was scheduled to be one of the parent chaperons. After quickly donning my borrowed clown costume after work on Halloween night, I went to the kids’ school to run the bean bag toss game. It was mass confusion and sugar hysteria. Kids shrieking and running. Complete pandemonium. The noise reverberated in my ears.

After the kids threw the bean bags, someone had to pick them up to set up for the next contestant. That someone was me. But leaning over to the ground made the room spin. I spent the evening in spinning pandemonium, and soon developed a headache.

I know many people with vertigo are nauseated and completely incapacitated. I was relatively lucky. In fact, when I finally went to the doctor for tests a few years later (during my third episode of vertigo), I was told that I “compensated very well.” That meant I could convince myself the world wasn’t spinning when my inner ears told me it was. I guess that’s a good life-skill to have. But I’d rather not need it.

What Halloween reverberates in your memory?

Storytelling Is Important in Many Professions, Whether Reciting the Facts or Making It Up

A lawyer telling his client's story to the jury

A lawyer telling his client’s story to the jury

Lawyers are supposed to tell a story when they are trying a case. Professors taught me that in law school classes, I read countless columns by James McElhaney in the American Bar Association Journal over the years giving the same advice, and I went to a National Institute of Trial Advocacy training program where we role-played telling our side of the story.

There are websites and law review articles devoted to the notion that lawyers should use fiction-writing techniques in their courtroom arguments and legal briefs. For example:

 “Of course it is all story telling–nothing more. It is the experience of the tribe around the fire, the primordial genes excited, listening–the old warrior, his voice alive, rising with the flames, now whispering away, hinting at the secret–the shivers racing up your back to the place where the scalp is made, and then the breathless climax, and the sadness and the tears with the dying of the embers, and the silence.

. . . [L] awyers must be storytellers. That is what the art of advocacy comes down to–the telling of the true story of one’s case.” [Gerry Spence, How to Make a Complex Case Come Alive for a Jury, 72 A.B.A. J. 62, 63, 64 (1986)]

“In every jury trial the attorneys construct rival stories from testimony and evidence whose meaning is unclear. A trial is a competition over the framing of this ambiguous material: how should the jury interpret the testimony and evidence? And it is also a competition over the authority of the lawyers: whose account of the meaning of this material deserves to be believed.” [Sam Schrager, The Trial Lawyer’s Art 11 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999)]

Not only did my training teach me storytelling, but my legal practice did also. I wrote hundreds of position statements in claims I defended. I drafted affidavits crafting each witness’s role into his or her story. Some were boring recitations of policy. Some were roll-your-eyes tales of stupid human behavior. Some were valiant attempts to improve an employee’s performance. All fed into the story I wanted the ruling body to believe, just as each character’s role in a movie contributes to the whole.

But as an attorney, I had to take the facts as given. I could leave some facts out, but I couldn’t create the stories out of whole cloth. And I had to remember that leaving facts out was risky—the attorney for the other side might well disclose the information at an inopportune moment. It was usually better to control the presentation of the evidence, whenever possible.

what ifNow, as a writer both of fiction and of creative nonfiction, I can include only what I want to. When writing fiction I can make stuff up. I am constrained only by my imagination and by the parameters of the make-believe world I am building. It might be a very realistic world. It might be historically accurate. It might be total fantasy.

Even when writing non-fiction, creative writers have much more leeway than attorneys do. In fact, writers of memoir are often advised to shape their life story to fit their theme. Leave out parts. Combine characters.

As one editor states in telling writers to develop a story arc in their memoirs:

“. . . You may think because your book is based on your real life experiences (memoir), historical events, scientific experimentation, or natural observations that you don’t need a story to write a book. Think again.

. . .

To write non-fiction and memoir is to inscribe, shape and mold facts into a coherent tale. . . .

Writers need to find their story first and then figure out how best to tell it. . . .”

Story is everything, whether we seek to persuade a judge or jury to decide in our favor, or whether we seek to create a satisfying world for our readers. But I do enjoy the freedom to make up the facts.

When have you used a story to persuade in your career?