Interviewed by a 17-year-old

I got this all wrong from the get-go. I had prepared answers for how to begin a career in human resources. What special characteristics and capabilities are needed in HR? What are my favorite components of the HR role? Describe the HR functions that are under your leadership and control.

The teenager, a friend of Crystel’s, started her questioning easily enough. She asked me about my past. I immediately thought this was an interesting technique. Maybe the teacher taught this method to loosen up your interviewee. Ask the people something they know well. Soften them before the meat of your inquiry.

“What is the most significant event in your life? An event that changed you?”

This was my first inkling that my assumption about this interview was off the mark. My career in human resources was certainly not the most significant event in my life.

How easy it would have been to lie. To not give her true and honest answers. To keep this interview on the surface.

And, wow, how unsatisfying that would have been for the both of us.

I was surprised how easily the answer came to me. How it was right there, bubbling just under the surface, a living certainty.

Without hesitation, I said, “Same-Sex Marriage.” On May 14, 2013 Governor Mark Dayton signed into law a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota. The new law went into effect on August 1, 2013.

This law legitimized me, my partner, and our children. I was no longer afraid to talk about Jody at work. I didn’t have to hide. It was okay for two women to be raising children together. I could have a family photo on my desk.

“How did you come out to your parents?”

I had to think about this answer because overshadowing everything, greater than having a same-sex partner was the sexual abuse in my family. It would have been so simple had it just been about choosing a life with a woman. Mired in all this muck was the fact that I wouldn’t stay quiet about sexual abuse. I wouldn’t back down from my truth. Telling my parents about same sex marriage paled in comparison.

“Are you happy where you are in life?”

I thought I’d be dead by the age of 25 either by drugs, alcohol or suicide. And, I would have been dead because of secrets. Not having secrets changed the trajectory of my life.

I told her all of this and more. About having an abortion when I was 14 years old and a baby when I had just turned 17. The same age she is.

“Are you happy with your children?”

Crystel was not just a fly on the wall during this interview. She sat right next to her friend. She watched as I cried. Because of course I would cry. We were talking about my children.

Her friend should get an A+ for this interview, I thought. Same-Sex marriage, sexual abuse, abortion, a baby, and now tears. This might have been more than she bargained for.

I wasn’t done. I asked her to include, if even as a footnote, that teenagers need to use birth control. Condoms are not 100% effective.  Birth control pills plus condoms increase the effectiveness in preventing pregnancy. I wasn’t sure if I was stating this for her teacher’s benefit or the millions of teenagers, including my two, who might read this paper. I told her that I didn’t want Juan and Crystel to be faced with the same decisions that I had to make.

There were more questions. More tears. Through it all, the interviewer was present, serious, and professional.

I didn’t realize until later that this paper was a history project. I’m history. Or, herstory. A study of past events, particularly in human affairs.

My interviewer was rad. The interview wasn’t awks. It was dope, very possible GOAT and I’m HUNDO P.

The Gen Z’s are alright.

Affection for Collection

“Madeline Kripke, Doyenne of Dictionaries, Is Dead at 76”

That was the headline on a New York Times obituary that got me thinking about what it means to be a collector.

Like Kripke, I have a collection of dictionaries. But unlike her collection, which took up her entire apartment and three warehouses, my collection—now that I’ve given away my two-volume Oxford English Dictionary and the magnifying glass it came with—consists only of a handful of paperbacks: The Pocket Oxford Dictionary, The Official Scrabble® Players Dictionary, Dorland’s Pocket Medical Dictionary, Cassell’s Compact Latin Dictionary and Drugs From A to Z: A Dictionary.

As a writer, I refer to these and other dictionaries often. So normally I’d continue to hold on to them.

But instead, I’m Marie Kondo-ing and letting go of what no longer sparks joy for me. In addition to the dictionaries and dozens of other books, I’m emptying shelves, drawers and closets that were once jam-packed with memory-provoking treasures—everything from journals and jewelry to purses, postcards and paintings.

That said, I have several collections I’m not yet ready to part with: sea glass from my favorite beach, postcards from places I’ve traveled, prayer cards from funerals I’ve attended and just about every handwritten letter I’ve ever received. For now, I’ll be hanging on to them, in large part because I still value the memories they evoke.

Taking inventory of my collections also has me thinking about my family and friends and what they collect.

My sister Karen, for instance, collects ceramic chickens for her kitchen, while my sister Diane collects nativity sets from places she travels. My cousin Mary Ann, a quilter, collects fabric.

Writer Cathy Madison, inspired by the pleasant memory of a green polka-dot clothed clown she used to carry as a child, collects clowns. And while fellow Word Sister Ellen Shriner doesn’t consider herself a serious collector, she does have half a dozen perfume bottles she thinks are pretty.

My friends Diane and Alan, on the other hand, get a kick out of a bathroom basket of “weird things” they’ve collected from the sea, including broken exoskeletons and some mystery items they can’t even identify. The items bring back fond memories of past vacations and spark debates over who dove down to collect what.

My friend Susan uses her journals to collect nametags from the events she attends, while my colleague John has spread his collection of vintage radios, which range from hip transistors from the 60s to large wooden consoles, throughout his house.

Regardless of what we collect, our collections put us in touch with our past selves and sometimes with our hopes and dreams for the future. They also offer an ever-ready way to experiment with arranging, organizing and visually presenting ourselves and our experiences to ourselves, as well as to family and close friends.

While I have valued and enjoyed my collections, many of which I began in my early 20s, some now feel more like clutter. I’ve even occasionally wondered if instead of being a thoughtful collector, I’ve crossed the line and become a haphazard hoarder. One reason is because I’ve moved some of my collections—once neatly organized and creatively displayed—willy-nilly to storage closets in my basement.

Plus, I’m feeling weighed down by my possessions. I’m traveling more and beginning to think about downsizing, so I’ll likely set several more of my collections free in the weeks and months ahead. One reason is because isolating at home due to the coronavirus makes it easier to sift and sort, reflect and reassess.

Do you have something special you collect?

If so, what is it and why did you start collecting in the first place? How does your collection make you feel? Are you still adding new items, or have you, like me, begun sifting through your collection with an eye toward curating or even curtailing it? Please share.

Uncertainty Is Its Own Trouble

This week, I expected to write about a reunion in Ohio with a handful of my graduate school friends. I haven’t visited with them in more than 20 years, because we live in five different states. I was eagerly anticipating seeing them in person. We would have unearthed long forgotten stories, laughed about our younger selves, and discovered who each of us is now. Last week, during the days we intended to gather, we emailed and expressed our disappointment along with our hope that we’ll be able to meet in the fall.

Uncertainty is its own trouble. Especially for a person like me, who thrives on planning and likes to take charge of my life. It’s even harder for people who are missing out on milestone events: canceled study abroad programs, postponed weddings, and trips of a lifetime on hold. For certain dreams, there’s no do-over.

I feel for anyone whose major life event has been short circuited by the pandemic. Those disappointments pale in the face of death from coronavirus, but it’s understandable to be depressed and frustrated by the loss.

Reading and watching shows about life during WWII is surprisingly comforting. From day to day, people in Great Britain and Europe didn’t know if they or someone they loved would be bombed, arrested, dead, or alive. Many days, just carrying on with ordinary life would be all anyone could manage. No doubt, some people couldn’t spare the emotional energy for dreaming of a happy future. But others projected all of their hopes to when the war was over and things got back to normal. The same way we do now.

These days, I remain hopeful for the future, but am learning to accept how much is out of my control. And always was. Tamping down my expectations is one of the lessons of the pandemic. I’m not planning too far into the future, not counting on anything unless it’s something that I alone can make happen, like writing, reading, laying out a new vegetable garden, or making a strawberry pie. I’m more at peace than I have ever been with taking each day as it comes.

Will I get together with my grad school friends in the fall? I hope so. If we can’t meet then, we’ll try again for next spring or summer.

Mount Fuji and Grey Hair

“How old are you?” The bike expert was putting a new battery into my cyclecomputer. How old am I? I wasn’t sure. I have had difficulty knowing how old I am. I’m going to retire next year at 63. On my birthday in September, I’ll be 62. I must be 61. 61 I told him.

“How much do you weigh?” I didn’t know that answer either. When was the last time I was on a scale? He must have taken my pause as a reluctance to reveal my weight. Before he could finish his explanation of why he needed my weight I made a guess and gave him a number.

On my bike ride home, I wondered, “If I didn’t color my hair, would that help me remember my age?” I don’t feel 61. If my hair was in its natural state, it would be completely silver or white. Maybe I’d look more my age. That is exactly why I have been coloring my hair for years in the first place. I didn’t want my children to have an old mother. I figured I’d wait until after they graduated from high school to go natural. Then the pandemic came. Now seems like a perfectly good time to work with all those feelings that grey hair will bring.

Sitting in the salon chair, I could see a family resemblance reflected in the mirror. I never wanted my mother or Aunt Annie to slide in and out of my face. With grey hair that might be exactly what I get.

Hiking up the ski hill, I imagined that our trip to Japan and our climb up Mount Fuji this coming July was still on. That trip may or may not happen. Like the rest of the world with this pandemic, my family and I are on a wait and see. Laboring for breath walking up the steep incline felt great. My entire body was committed to reaching the top. Once there I was graced with the Minneapolis skyline. I will continue to climb and descend regardless of COVID-19. Grey hair will certainly happen.

Your Future Self Will Thank You

 

Back in 2014, I attended a lecture at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. The speaker was Kelly McGonigal, an author and health psychologist who teaches The Science of Willpower, a popular Stanford University course.

According to McConigal, one of our biggest mistakes when making decisions is not picturing our future selves and how the decisions we make today will impact us in the years ahead.

That’s one reason why so many people put off doing things that could make a big difference in the decades to come: eating well, exercising regularly, maintaining friendships, saving for retirement and other actions that research has shown makes a big difference to quality of life as we age.

One way to set up your future self for success is by getting in touch with your hopes and dreams. I’ve been keeping a bucket list of mine for decades.

But because that list has gotten unwieldly—in large part because it now serves as a catch-all for everything from climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to taste-testing brandy Manhattans to building a cabin with my partner Steve to visiting the world’s most beautiful libraries—I also now keep an index card on which I’ve written just 10 things I want to accomplish in the next 10 years.

Even if I cross only one item off my index card every year for the next 10 years I’ll have a few accomplishments my future self will be able to look back on with pride as well as some experiences she can recall fondly.

Manifesting Me

Some years, I’ve called my future self into focus by giving her a name that had to do with one of my goals. One year, she was Author Artist. Shortly after, I signed a contract for my first book and become a real-life author.

I’m not the only one who uses names to bring the future into focus. On a recent episode of the Meditative Story podcast, music producer Larry Jackson shared a story about his work with Jennifer Hudson. On the day of their recording session, she arrived with two Pomeranians. One was named Oscar. The other Grammy. Admitting his cluelessness, Jackson asked her why she’d chosen those particular names.

Hudson’s response: “Well, I won an Oscar already and now we about to win a Grammy, ain’t we?” They did, and perhaps having two four-legged reminders of her future self-played a role in making that dream come true.

There are also other ways to call our future selves into focus. Journaling and dream boards are two common methods, but one of my favorites is by projecting yourself into the future.

One of my friend’s friends did that recently. She’s always dreamed of working for Spanx. So, one day, when in Atlanta for business, she spent an hour sitting in the Spanx lobby, picturing what it would be like one day if her future self really did work there.

Ready, set … age

Another tool that’s helped me get in touch with my future self is AgingBooth, a free face-aging app that lets you fast-forward your looks. Seeing what I might look like in 2050…when I’m 92…has helped me realize how much I’m looking forward to becoming my future self.

Will she be kinder? Still able to play 18 holes of golf. Eager to discover new authors? Finally rid of her bad habits.

What about you? How do you bring your future self into focus?

Me in 2020, at age 62
Me in 2050, at 92