What do you do

Most of you read that headline and immediately thought, “I’m an accountant.” “A fireman.” “A secretary.” Or, “I work on an assembly line.” “I’m a postal worker.” and so on.

Most Americans, for whatever reason identify with, and get their self-worth from, the job they do.

And for many, when they lose that job, they lose who they are. They sink into depression and feel like they’re less than human, half a man (or woman).

Why do we associate who we are with the job we do? Why do we place so much of our personal value upon such a transitory, ephemeral thing as employment?

I’m not saying having a job isn’t important. It is. We need to have an income to pay our bills, feed and clothe our family.

But it shouldn’t identify us.

Especially when it can be ripped away so easily leaving us feeling vulnerable and naked.

When answering the question, “What do you do?” we should think of the real things that make us who we are, the things we do that make us happy, make us feel alive. The things we’re passionate about.

So instead of what do you do, how about we ask each other, “What excites you?” What energizes you?

Do you enjoy reading? You’re a reader. Be proud. Talk about your favorite book, your favorite author. When asked, “What do you do,” reply, “I’m a voracious reader. I’ve finished 10 books this month. My favorite was Such and Such because this happened and the writer hit me right in the feels.”

Any hobby is what you do. Do you do Knitting? Crochet? Painting? Craft-making? Baking? Are you learning a musical instrument?

I’m learning the trombone. It’s what I do.

I also write fiction. Not enough to make a living at, but it makes me feel alive to create new worlds, to put my characters through hell and bring them back.

I also run. So I’m a runner.

Ask me what do I do and you’ll get those answers and I’ll also tell you I collect comic books from the Silver Age. I enjoy collecting and listening to vinyl records.

In fact, I probably have far too many things I do and I could discuss each at length if I wanted to.

The one thing I’ll never answer to the question, “What do you do” is my job.

I mean sure, I used to be a documentation specialist and a technical writer. Then came the Great Recession and I became unemployed.

But none of that defined the real me. Your job is just a means to earning a paycheck so you can continue to do the things you really enjoy, the things that matter, the things that make you happy.

And because of that attitide I didn’t lose who I was when I lost my job. I didn’t feel I’d been cut adrift, that I no longer had an identify, or I had lost my self-respect.

Did I worry about where our next meal was coming from? Did I worry about losing the house? Hell yeah.

But that’s different. Those worries are always there, even with having a job. Money worries are different from feeling you lost yourself when you lost your job.

I heard someone say they have no hobbies. I bet you do. Do you do crossword puzzles? You’re building your vocabulary. Do you do those adult coloring books? That’s a relaxation technique; you’re fighting stress. Do you follow a sports team? You’re a fan. Do you have a pet? You’re an animal caregiver. Do you watch daytime soap operas? That’s a great memory exercise keeping up with all those lives. Do you workout at a gym? Do you eat healthy? Are you vegan, paleo, or a paleoveganista? Are you liberal or a socialist?

You see, everyone has something that makes up who you are. Sometimes you just have to look harder for what that thing is.

So the next time someone says, “What do you do” don’t go for the knee-jerk response and tell them what your job is, tell them, really tell them, what you do. And say it with pride. “I’m a stamp collector! You know what my favorite stamp is?”

You’ll feel better and maybe it’ll open up a whole conversation of discovery.

“You do? I collect beer steins! I have this really interesting one from Germany, when you look through it while holding it up to the light, it has a picture in the bottom.”

So really, what do you do?

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The simple truths found in fiction

I’m currently reading, Have Space Suit-Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein for the first time.

So far, it’s very entertaining and it makes me wonder why I haven’t read more Heinlein since I enjoyed Stranger in a Strange Land some decades ago.

The protagonist is a young man, Clifford “Kip” Russell, fresh out of high school, who wants to go to the moon. He works for the moment as a soda jerk in a pharmacy (the story was published in 1958 when pharmacies still had counters where customers could order fountain drinks and sometimes burgers and hot dogs, like a tiny diner).

He has a run-in with the town bully, Ace Quiggle, who verbally abuses Kip. Kip’s boss comes over and Ace leaves.

Heinlein writes:

The boss and I were alone shortly after. He said quietly, “Kip, a reverence for life does not require a man to respect Nature’s obvious mistakes.”

“Sir?”

“You need not serve Quiggle again. I don’t want his trade.”

“Oh, I don’t mind. He’s harmless.”

“I wonder how harmless such people are? To what extent civilization is retarded by the laughing jackasses, the empty-minded belittlers? [Emphasis mine.] Go home, you’ll want to make an early start tomorrow.”

As I read that, I was struck by how relevant that thought is today, some 60 years after it was first written.

I believe today we are seeing to what extent civilization has been retarded by those laughing jackasses and the empty-minded belittlers.

Those laughing jackasses and empty-minded belittlers have managed to elect one of their own, the biggest laughing jackass, the most empty-minded of all belittlers: trump.

Heinlein predicted the rise of the deplorables!

This is why I love fiction. Hidden within the action, the adventure, the exotic situations, while the characters are weaving their way seductively through the plot, the author sometimes inserts some very provocative philosophical points of view.

Ofttimes the message is covert and you need to do some analysis to find it, but sometimes it is overt and waves it’s little hand at you saying, “Here I am. Underline me and spend a little time thinking about what I have to say.”

Or am I the only one who reads with a pencil at hand, ready to underline any line that strikes my fancy?

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That reminds me

An interesting characteristic of our brain is associative memories.

It is throwback Thursday, after all.

I’m refering to the brain’s ability to connect two completely different items or concepts.

Music, for example, has very powerful associative properties. For many of us, hearing a certain song will awaken certain memories, some happy, some sad.

Many songs will remind us of a time in our past when we first heard the song, say a childhood event, or a year in school.

Some songs give us a vague feeling, such as “Sugar, Sugar,” by The Archies gives me a general happy feeling about my chikdhood, whereas others are more specific. When I hear “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron,” I’m back in the Cub Scouts with my friends taking a train down to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Some parent had brought an AM radio along and we’d sing to somenof the Top 40 hits.

Another example is, I used to listen to Black Sabbath’s first album while a teenager reading sword and sorcery tales, particularly the Conan stories by Robert E. Howard.

Now, when I listen to Black Sabbath, a feeling comes over me, a mood, if you will, that is similar to reexperiencing the awe and wonder I had back then reading those stories.

So intense is this mood that now I’ll play their music when I’m writing, hoping to capture some of that magic in my own story.

Smells also provide strong associative memories. Maybe a whiff of a certain cologne or perfume will bring back memories of someone out of our past.

Sometimes the association will surprise us because it was unexpected.

For instance, the reason for this rather bland post is because I was making coffee and enjoying the aroma of the freshly ground coffee.

Now I’ve been around the smell of coffee my whole life. There are many decades worth of memories associated with it that I could have recalled.

I could have remembered my time in the Navy, where coffee was figuratively our life’s blood. We drank it nonstop from the moment we awoke until we fell asleep. Our index fingers nearly atrophied into a permanent crook from holding our coffee cups.

On the other hand, because I do drink it regularly, the pleasant scent of coffee doesn’t always trigger any specific memories, it just puts me into a good mood.

Today I was surprised when the coffee scent triggered a memory of my childhood. I was taken back to my parents’ house before they were divorced. Back when I thought my childhood was happy.

Both my parents had coffee in the morning, so our house would fill up with the odor as it was being brewed in an old aluminum electric purculator in our kitchen.

It was similar to the old perculators they’d show in the Maxwell House coffee commercials, like this one:

I remembered that my dad, who, because he drank a lot of coffee, smelled of it. Many people remember the scent of their dad’s calogne. Me, I remember that he smelled like coffee.

My mom had made breakfast and ee were eating at the kitchen table, while my dog, Thor, lay just outside the kitchen doorway watching us. He wasn’t allowed in the kitchen and he stayed obediently on the other side until we came out.

It was an odd associative memory and I thought I’d share.

Have you had any associative memories lately that surprised you?

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Summer solstice

It’s June 21st, the summer solstice, also known as midsummer. 

As a child, June 21st meant summer vacation was well underway and there was still the rest of June, plus all of July and August before school started up again in September.

That was an eternity.

I have vivid memories of my childhood doing all these wonderful things with my friends, riding our bikes across town to play in the Menomonee River, going to the nearby park to play on the swings, teeter-totters, or play a game of hide-and-go-seek or sandot baseball, climb trees, or throw a frisbee. Going to summer camp or on family vacations to the Wisconsin Dells or down to visit relatives in Kansas. These events seemed to last forever, yet in reality, took place over a few short weeks during summer vacation.

Now, as an adult, I see June 21st as a signal that summer is in full swing. I regard Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer (compared to the meteorological start of summer). There are still three full months to come of decent warm weather, July, August, and September, in which to go to the beach, or enjoy one or more of the many festivals Milwaukee is known for. We just had Pride Fest, Polish Fest, and the Lakefront Festival of the Arts.

Yet to come is Summerfest, the world’s biggest musical festival, Germanfest, Italianfest, Mexicanfest, Africanfest, Wisconsin State Fair, Feast with the Beasts at the Milwaukee County Zoo, and Indian Summer, to name a few and not including every church festival that we have several of nearly every weekend throughout the summer.

Then, on the other hand, there’s the part of me that suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) and that part of me sees June 21st as the beginning of the end of the long days of Sun light. To quote Shakespeare from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The true beginning of our end.”

Yesterday and today are the longest days of the year, giving off life sustaining and mood enhancing Vitamin D enriched Sun light.

After today, the days grown shorter, the lush greenery outside begins to fade, and before I know it, nature is hibernating again, the days are gloomy and cloud covered, and I’m in a funk struggling to keep alert and active.

But that’s months away. Let’s focus instead on how beautiful and alive the world is today, June 21st. The trees are spreading their branches, showing off their emerald glory. The sunshine is warm upon our upturned faces. The days are filled with the sounds of singing birds and the nights with chirping crickets.

It’s grilling season. Enjoy the smell of charcoal briquettes and the sound of sizzling meat as you enjoy a cold drink and celebrate the summer solstice.

It is midsummer, a major holiday in Finland, a time for family and friends. As the Finns say, “Go peaceful or go party.”

Today, is the best day of the year. All full of hope and beauty and life.

Get out and enjoy it.

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Life in the slow lane

I was making good time tonight, which is unusual considering how many Milwaukee streets are torn up for unnecessary repair.

It was only 4:40pm as I neared the grocery store. I figured I had time to run in and pick up a few things and get out.

4:43pm – I made it through the store in no time and headed for the checkout. Since I did only have a few items, I chose the “15 Items or Fewer” lane. I was behind three people with only a few items also. I’d be out in no time.

Then I noticed the cashier. She was holding some coupons and typing on the screen. OK. Sometimes you have to key them in because they don’t have a bar code. No problem.

4:44pm – Tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap

Seriously?

4:45pm – Tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap

Oh, come on!

4:46pm – Tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap

And by this time, it’s too late for me to change lanes. The others are full with people with grocery carts full. And our line is now 10 deep behind me.

4:46pm – The cashier finally asks for help. Another cashier comes over. The first cashier says, “She just showed me how to do this once.” OMG. So the second cashier takes the coupon. Tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap

I started looking around for cameras and Alan Funt’s son, Peter, to show up and say, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!”

4:47pm – Tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap.

Finally, the second cashier steps away and leaves the first cashier to her own devices. Tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap.

No. This can’t be real.

4:48pm – Tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap.

Now there is a line from extending from all three open lanes. It’s like a nightmare. I’m hearing my cashier tapping away while another cashier is yelling, “Price check,” and the third actually says, “Override on 2!”

I’m in Hell. I know it. I’ve died and I’m in Hell. I’ll be in this lane forever.

4:49pm – Tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap.

A man, who I thought was the manager comes over and says to my cashier, “You’ve been on this for 10 minutes. The entire store is backed up!”

As he stepped away, I realize he’s just an irate customer. There’s a lot of us here now. Finally, the second cashier opens another lane. But because there’s now like 15 people behind me, I can’t move. I’m committed, or fit to be.

4:50pm – The cashier from the service desk comes over to help. Tap tap tap. “There.” And she walks away, but the first cashier finally says, “That’ll be $5.85.” Yay! We might actually get out of here.

4:51pm – The next customer in line moves through in no time.

4:52pm – The customer just ahead of me is having her stuff scanned. Whoohoo! I’m next. But wait, what’s this? She’s handing the cashier some coupons! Oh, no, you didn’t!

4:53pm – Yes, she did. Tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap.

4:54pm – Tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap tappity tap tap tap tap tappity tap tap.

My stomach is growling. I am, too. I contemplate opening the jar of peanut butter I have just to keep from starving to death.

4:55pm – Tap! “You’re total is $2.35.”

I’m next! Seriously, I am! Boop! Boop! Boop! Boop! Boop! Boop! She’s done! I’ve already ran my debit card through the reader and I’m impatiently waiting for it to say, “Approve?”

She looks at me. “Do you have any coupons?”

No! As God is my witness, I do not have any coupons! Please, just hit the Debit key so I can get out of here!

4:56pm – She finally hands me my receipt – with attitude – as if I was the one causing all the problems.

Really?

4:57pm – I make it to the parking lot. I’m home free.

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Am I red faced or what?

So I was making copies. I finished one set that printed perfectly without problem. I inserted another set into the feeder. Then pushed Start. Nothing. Weird.

I pulled out the paper and reinserted it. The light for the feeder came on but the light on the start button didn’t. Weird. I lifted the cover and inserted a sheet directly onto the glass and closed it. Still nothing.

And everything seemed normal. No warning lights were lit.

I pushed reset. Nothing. Turned off the power and turned it back on. No change. I even shut it off and restarted it. Still nothing.

So I call for service. Explain the problem. She takes down all the info. Writes up a service ticket and starts to explain when the repairman might make it out.

Meanwhile, the secretary for a different group comes in. “I heard you were having copier problems.” Word travels fast, I guess. She looks at it a second and immediately points to the menu screen. “It’s out of paper.” What? I look and there in tiny little letters it says “Load Paper.” WTF?

So she puts paper in and it works. I tell the service rep, “Um. Nevermind. It was just out of paper.” She laughs.

I tell the secretary thank you. And because I was embarrassed, felt compelled to explain that the copier gave no indication. I’ve run out of paper in the middle of a copy jobs before and it stops and squawks, letting you know but this time it ran out of paper exactly at the end of the last job so there was no complaint.

Well, at least that’s my story. Sounds better than saying I was a big idiot who couldn’t tell the copier needed paper.

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