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Posts Tagged ‘leisure’

Why self-care matters

In aging, behavior, business, domestic life, Health, life, urban life, women, work on May 11, 2014 at 12:36 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Maybe you know this classic 1928 song?

Button up your overcoat
When the wind is free
Take good care of yourself
You belong to me

Eat an apple every day
Get to bed by three
Oh, take good care of yourself
You belong to me

You get the idea…If you love someone, you want them to stay safe and healthy!
Are you including pleasure in your daily life?

Are you including pleasure in your daily life?

But what if that weary, worn-out, frazzled person is you?
It’s an interesting challenge in an era of economic fear and anxiety, a time when people who actually have paid work are terrified to be seen as slow, lazy — worst of all, disposable.
Here’s a recent post by Small Dog Syndrome, a 27-year-old who recently moved from the U.S. to London, about her struggle to find time for self-care:
I’m starting to feel a bit depleted and stress is taking a very real toll on my health. Even if it’s for a job or in a field you love, doing work without pay is grueling, on the soul as well as the body. And spending time working on those projects has the very real potential to impact my freelancing work negatively – no one’s at the top of their game when chronically sleep deprived.
Many American workers, those who even get paid vacations, are too scared to actually take the time off, or too broke to go anywhere.
So they keep driving their exhausted minds, spirits and bodies like machines at a vicious, speeded-up industrial pace. We’re all becoming Charlie Chaplin movie out-takes.
But it’s no comedy.
I recently did something that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. I had three deadlines to meet and editors driving me insane with endless demands. Instead of staying glued to the computer, fed up and resentful at their insatiability, I snagged a cheap ticket to a show I’d been wanting to see for years, the musical “Once.”
I went to a Wednesday matinee.
IMG_20140508_081255599
It was heaven. I came home refreshed by pleasure.

Good thing too, since the next two days proved to be completely hellish and the week ended with an editor killing my story — after weeks of work, costing me $750 in lost income.

Tea helps!

Tea helps!

In response? I made a pot of tea, put some chocolates on a tray and ended my crappy Friday with a pile of glossy fashion magazines.

It takes effort to make time to care for yourself.

Here are some of my favorite ways to do so:

– a pedicure

– a pot of hot tea every day at 4 or 5:00 p.m.: hydrating, comforting and fragrant

– a massage

– having fresh flowers and/or plants in every room

– going for a walk

– calling a friend

– taking dance class two to four times a week

– listening to music

If we don’t make time for pleasure, what on earth are we doing?

Are you taking good care of yourself these days?
If not, why not?
If so, what are some of the things you do to stay healthy and happy?

A NYC Saturday: Muscadet, an Irish play, a ship in the bay

In behavior, cities, culture, life, urban life, US on November 10, 2013 at 2:56 am

By Caitlin Kelly

photo(7)

Love those almond ears!

Perfect Saturday afternoon…

Lunch at La Bergamote, on West 52d: crepes, salad, a glass of my favorite white wine, a shared pastry for dessert.

photo(4)

Then we walked around the corner to see a play, “Maeve’s House”, a 90-minute one-man monologue about an Irish writer, Maeve Brennan, once known for decades for her work in The New Yorker.

Yet she died, after a decade of poverty and ill health, in 1993. So much for the writers’ glory we all strive so hard to attain.

The theater at the Irish Arts Center, at the western edge of Manhattan, is small and intimate, the barman wearing a shawl-collared Aran sweater and a linen shirt, his black hair pulled high into a small topknot. My last name is Kelly and my great-grandfather was a schoolteacher in the small town of Rathmullan, Co. Donegal. I rarely seek or claim my roots, but it was lovely, in Manhattan, to hear that lilt all around us.

The stage was set with only a wooden bench, divided like those in the subway, and another seat. The only backdrop was a tall painting that looked like city towers — but was made up of words, written vertically. Perfect.

The actor, Eamon Morrissey, is 70, and his focus and stamina were amazing.

As we walked to the car, at 3:45 p.m., we heard a loud horn sounded five times — from the Carnival Splendour, the massive cruise ship at anchor in the Hudson, literally at the end of a midtown city block. Imagine what it’s like to glide out of the harbor, past the Statue of Liberty, at sunset I’ve yet to take a cruise but I love seeing these behemoths docked.

As we drove home, north up the West Side Highway, kids were out playing soccer, handball, basketball, skateboarding. Cyclists and joggers braved the chilly November air. The trees are still wearing their fall colors of crimson, orange, russet and brilliant yellow.

In the middle of the river, a tiny black and white tugboat — six stories high — looked like a wedding cake, or perhaps a Chinese pagoda, its nose tucked into the back of an enormous barge.

Saturday in New York City…

Va-ca-tion!

In behavior, cities, culture, domestic life, family, Health, life, nature, travel, urban life, US, work on August 3, 2013 at 12:08 am

By Caitlin Kelly

If you live or work in the United States, vacation is a taboo word for many people — their employers don’t offer paid time off and/or they just can’t afford to take any.

Or they’re such workaholics they can’t bear the thought of missing a call/email/client meeting.

The typical American workplace offers a measly two weeks off each year. As someone who runs at a very high speed, and who loves to travel, taking time off whenever I want and can afford to is one of the reasons I stay self-employed.

I tend to work at a pretty intense pace. The harder/faster I run, the more downtime I need to recharge and come back at it, hard, with gusto — not weary resentment.

The seal of the United States Department of Labor

The seal of the United States Department of Labor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apparently, the tide is turning, says The Wall Street Journal:

The two-martini lunch may be extinct, but another perk common to yesteryear’s workplace, the two-week vacation, is making a comeback. No longer limited to students, honeymooners and retirees, drawn-out holidays are finding converts in overachieving professionals.

“It used to be that Americans did the drive-by vacation,” breezing through major tourist attractions, said Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel, an upscale travel agency in McLean, Va. “They’re not doing that anymore.” Her company has seen a 25% to 30% increase in longer holiday bookings over the last year, she said.

Plenty of Americans have a hard time taking vacation at all. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about a quarter of private-industry workers didn’t get any paid time off in 2012. And some who have holiday packages are loath to max them out, for fear of seeming dispensable in a still-shaky economy.

The lack of American vacation time strikes people living in many other nations — Australia, Canada, much of Europe — as weird indeed. But here, where affordable health insurance is tied to your job, and you’re scared to lose both, going anywhere for very long feels too risky to many people. (Talk about a capitalist culture!)

I try to take off six weeks a year, or more, if possible. My trips are rarely exotic or costly, but I desperately need to get out of our apartment, where I work alone all day, and our (lovely) town where I’ve lived for 24 years.

I need new scenery, new experiences, foreign accents, adventure!

Our recent two-week trip to Arizona was perfect, even with temperatures that could soar to 100 by noon. I saw old friends, made new ones, did a bit of work, bought some pretty new clothes, took lots of photos, read for pleasure, lay by the hotel pool, did a long road trip, stayed in a funky hotel, stayed in nature for five days.

The best part?

No computer. I didn’t touch my laptop for five full days, which made me feel like I’d been gone for a month, not merely five days off the net.

I came home blessedly and gratefully refreshed, ready to pick up the traces again.

Our next vacation is planned for two weeks mid-September.

We had hoped for Newfoundland, but are doing some planned, costly renovations instead. Luckily, we now have a tent and sleeping pads and a car that will accommodate our sports gear, so even a two or three-hour drive in any direction can take us to somewhere fun and new — the shore of Long Island Sound in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, even as far as Delaware.

Here’s an unlikely essay, in yesterday’s The New York Times, from an American employer who actually gives his first-year employees four weeks off. Hire me, dude!

More than ever, we live in a culture that overvalues the ethic of “more, bigger, faster” and undervalues the importance of rest, renewal and reflection. I preach this lesson for a living, but I, too, can get so passionately immersed in my work that I intermittently forget to apply the lesson to myself.

A growing body of evidence suggests that more overall vacation time – intense effort offset regularly by real renewal — fuels greater productivity and more sustainable performance…If you’re in any sort of demanding job, it makes sense to take at least a week of true vacation every three months…

The United States is the only developed country that doesn’t mandate employers to provide vacation time. Most companies do provide it, but often stingily and insufficiently.

To my fellow leaders: Two weeks isn’t enough if what you’re seeking from your people is their best. Is there any doubt, for example, that the greater the demand, the more frequent our need to replenish and rejuvenate? Demand in our lives is rising so relentlessly that I’m beginning to believe even four weeks of vacation a year isn’t enough.

The most basic aim of a vacation ought to be restoration – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.

A recent national survey of 977 people, published in Vanity Fair magazine offered some funny, and not so funny, statistics about Americans on vacation:

— 90 percent said they’d try to help a lost tourist

– but 21 percent (cheap bastards!) never leave a tip for the daily maid service for their room; luckily 29 percent said they leave $3 to $5 a day

– not at all surprising, only 1 percent said they prefer to travel by bus; 50 percent said car and 39 percent by plane. Only 5 percent (!), which is very American, chose the train — by far my favorite! But American train service is costly and atrocious compared to that of many other nations.

English: The Long Island Sound steamboat Rhode...

English: The Long Island Sound steamboat Rhode Island (1836). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you able to take vacations?

Where do you like to go?

What do you like to do when you get there?

Here’s a helpful list of suggestions of how to enjoy your time off, from one of my favorite blogs, Apartment Therapy.

Related articles

Metro, boulot, dodo — ras-le-bol!

In animals, behavior, domestic life, life, love, travel, work on May 13, 2013 at 12:04 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The French say it so much better, as usual — subway/train, work, sleep. (Enough already!)

That’s what “normal” life too often devolves into, a steady and numbing routine that continues unbroken, sometimes for decades.

The past 10 days’ break have been a blessing indeed, with a deliciously indolent rhythm of eat/sleep/repeat. Shop, visit a museum, see friends, read for pleasure, sit in the sun on the dock and listen to gulls squawking. Just slooooooooooooow down to whatever pace is ours alone.

Both of the friends we stayed with, both long-married couples with empty nests, are people we’ve known for many years, welcoming and gracious hosts who fed us well and stayed up into the night talking. Both have cats and large, affectionate dogs who would come and nose us awake in the silent mornings.

The husbands get along beautifully and the women, like me, love to make stuff, whether sewing or art or calligraphy — one is a fellow writer and the other is a graphic designer who teaches and runs her own firm. She helped me make this amazing bag with fabric I bought years ago in Toronto and a vintage watch face I found in Richmond and attached with a button — with a $ sign! — she just happened to have in her stash of antique buttons.

It’s the perfect bag for a freelance writer: time, words, money.

cattibag

It was deeply refreshing to just not have to do anything. (That’s not entirely accurate, as two of my editors wanted more work on two stories I thought were fully tied off, but you ignore clients at your peril.)

This week back home in New York is a bit of the usual whirlwind — meeting a friend in from San Francisco Tuesday for a drink, an event at a local library for my book “Malled” on Wednesday, and Thursday night will join a group of New York Times staffers at a trivia contest — we won last year, so it’s time to defend our title against The Wall Street Journal, Fox News and a room filled with ferocious journalism competitors eager to prove who’s smartest.

It will be the usual blur of meetings, calls, emails, pitches, errands, follow-ups.

The silhouette of a large saguaro stands at su...

The silhouette of a large saguaro stands at sunset in Saguaro National Park on the east side of Tucson, Arizona. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But next Saturday we fly to Tucson, Arizona for two more weeks where Jose will be working long days teaching the New York Times Student Journalism Institute. I’ll be giving a lecture on freelancing, but the rest of my time there is pure rest and relaxation. I’m hoping to hike the Grand Canyon again — the last time was June 1994 — alone, as last time. I can’t wait to go horseback riding through one of my favorite parts of the country.

Our time off has let us feel human again, not just weary industrial cogs in machines moving far too quickly. We laughed a lot and slept deeply.

Have you been able to take a break recently?

Did it help?

Do less, slowly, and take more breaks — but can you?

In behavior, business, culture, journalism, life, urban life, US, work on February 11, 2013 at 1:49 am

Now there’s an un-American sentiment!

A 2011 poll found that Americans had left 9.2 unused vacation days that year.

Time Selector

Time Selector (Photo credit: Telstar Logistics)

With a recession still in play for millions who would like nothing more than the chance to work 40 or more paid hours per week, working less is a privileged notion, a message meant for those of us lucky enough to have jobs, or freelance work.

It’s also a difficult-to-impossible luxury for people whose jobs come in shifts that require seven to 12 hours of non-stop work: cops, nurses, public transit workers, cabbies and firefighters, to name a few. One taxi driver I spoke to in Montreal, a man of 42, this week told me he works 70 hours a week — and barely makes $700 for his trouble.

From The New York Times:

THINK for a moment about your typical workday. Do you wake up tired? Check your e-mail before you get out of bed? Skip breakfast or grab something on the run that’s not particularly nutritious? Rarely get away from your desk for lunch? Run from meeting to meeting with no time in between? Find it nearly impossible to keep up with the volume of e-mail you receive? Leave work later than you’d like, and still feel compelled to check e-mail in the evenings?

 More and more of us find ourselves unable to juggle overwhelming demands and maintain a seemingly unsustainable pace. Paradoxically, the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less. A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.

I admit, I heartily agree. I do all of these:

daytime workouts

short afternoon naps

longer sleep hours

more time away from the office

longer, more frequent vacations

while also being very aware that many people — like the millions working retail jobs, for example — enjoy zero flexibility in when and how they schedule their time. When I worked the 1-9pm shift during my time as a sales associate at The North Face, (the subject of my book, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail), our “dinner” break might be ordered at 4 or 5pm.

And, with job security a hopeless fantasy, many office workers are simply too busy, or too scared to be seen “slacking off”, to even leave their desk for a meal, let alone head out for a walk, bike ride, yoga class or the gym during their workday.

I’ve stayed freelance for the control it gives me over my daily schedule and yearly activities. I just took two weeks away from my home/office in New York to visit Ontario and Montreal, and spent three of those days working.

Thanks to wi-fi and my laptop, and my work, I can basically work almost anywhere. After a grueling full day of interviewing people for a Times story on Wednesday, I came home and finished up an email interview, a quick turnaround of 500 words for a new client, at 10:30 that night. So much for Montreal nightlife!

I’ll be in D.C. for a few days in early May, and probably visit Jose in Tucson in late May where he’ll be teaching. We’ve planned a two-week trip to Newfoundland in September. That’s already 5 to 6 weeks’ vacation planned for 2013, with a break for me every three months or less. Whenever I pull in a decent income, the first impulse I have — paradoxically perhaps — is to take some time off, to travel, to see some art or ballet or theater to re-boot my creative juices and simply enjoy life.
Time me

Time me (Photo credit: mrlins)

Also from the Times article:

Along the way, I learned that it’s not how long, but how well, you renew that matters most in terms of performance. Even renewal requires practice. The more rapidly and deeply I learned to quiet my mind and relax my body, the more restored I felt afterward. For one of the breaks, I ran.

I’ve noticed this in my breaks as well — even a full 24 hours fully devoted to one’s own schedule of amusement can prove extremely restorative.

My final day in Montreal could have been a frenzy of rushed shopping or sight-seeing. Instead a friend from the 1980s when I worked there at the Gazette joined us for lunch. We reminisced for more than 3 hours. I then went for an exfoliation, an hour of bliss and eucalyptus-scented steam, and Jose and I went to a terrific and lively new restaurant, Hotel Herman, for dinner. The joint was jumping. We sat at the central bar and bumped elbows with fellow diners, one of whom was a museum curator from Chantilly who showed me a photo on her cellphone of her horse, Kalinka.
Our Montreal meals usually lasted 1.5 to three hours. Just not rushing was a great relief and deep, unaccustomed pleasure for two journalists who have been working to deadline since our undergrad years at college.
We’re back home now, a little broke but sated and refreshed.
How often during your day do you take a break?
What do you do to recharge?
Do you take vacations?

Taking a hooky day today!

In behavior, blogging, books, business, cities, culture, domestic life, journalism, life, photography, urban life, work on January 11, 2013 at 12:39 am
English: Looking south from Delancey Street, a...

English: Looking south from Delancey Street, at central mall that divides Allen Street (Manhattan) on a sunny late morning. ZIP 10002. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is a sad truth that I can see the towers of Manhattan from our street 25 miles north of the city, shimmering like Oz — yet I rarely head there for pure pleasure.

I’m just not the sort of person who sits in a loud, crowded cafe and “works” on her laptop. I don’t want background noise when I’m speaking to clients or colleagues, nor the hassle of having to move or carry stuff. I’m writing this at my dining table, staring up the Hudson River, listening to WNYC.

But for today — play day!

I’m taking the train into Manhattan with Jose (yay! hubby time!), and meeting a blog pal — Mrs. Fringe — for coffee, my third (so far) blogging blind date; two years ago I met Lorna, of Gin & Lemonade on her visit here from Scotland, and met Michelle, The Green Study, in Minneapolis in October.

I’ll head downtown to the Lower East Side to see a show of ballet photographs by Henry Leutwyler, which closes on January 12, at the Foley Gallery on Allen Street. (I’m going to see the New York City Ballet on Tuesday evening, and can’t wait!)

I’m meeting a new friend for lunch at this spot, Spitzer’s Corner. I have only one work commitment — a 4pm phone interview with a professor at MIT whose wisdom I need for a meeting I’m having on Monday. I plan to browse the LES, which has some of my favorite shops and restaurants, before heading to Joe’s Pub at 7:00 p.m. to watch my friend Elizabeth Bougerol play with her band, The Hot Sardines. Both shows are sold out, which is so terrific — I met Elizabeth a few years ago when we sat beside one another at the Sunday Night Dinner, an ongoing fun event held in the Queens home of Tamara Reynolds.

Then we’re heading out to dinner at Le Philosophe with my friend Tracy, who makes gorgeous hats — Madonna and Mary Blige have worn them — and her partner, an architect.

This workweek has been insane. Truly (happily) non-stop.

I have a major business piece in The New York Times this weekend — so had to shoot some last-minute questions to a source in Islamabad at 9:00 Wednesday night — and am working on another Times piece about a very cool young woman, so cool I’m also pitching her story to a variety of other publications as well. That’s meant asking colleagues for their help and contacts, like a woman who used to live in my town seven years ago I found on LinkedIn.

I’m also working on a speculative and very interesting business possibility that has me speaking to people in Nova Scotia, Toronto, and Illinois for their insights and advice. It’s a big step away from journalism, but a potentially very interesting one.

My fab new assistant — the non-stop C of Small Dog Syndrome — is keeping me busy keeping up with her progress.

I decided last week to take Friday off entirely, which, of course, put extra pressure on the rest of the work week to grind it out. The one joy of working freelance is that I can indeed disappear occasionally when it suits me. Believe it or not, Jose has to really nag me all the time to take time off for fun. Any of you who work for yourselves know this all too well!

Here’s a neat new book, “Tweak It”, about how to carve out work-life balance.

Do you ever take a hooky day — a weekday away from school or work — for pure relaxation?

Why I’m not watching much TV these days

In behavior, culture, domestic life, entertainment, family, television on December 2, 2012 at 5:07 pm
NBC Nightly News broadcast

NBC Nightly News broadcast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The TV listings in my local paper, The New York Times, have 106 channels, including nine premium cable.

In the past month, I’ve turned the television on maybe four or five times. I wish I could say I miss it terribly, but I don’t. My TV fast began in June when I house-sat in Vermont, with a screen that needed three remotes, none of which I understood. Instead, I went to a barbecue, a minor league baseball game and read.

You know, books.

It continued at my Dad’s house when I was house-sitting in late September. I’d light a fire — a luxury we don’t have at home — eat dinner on the coffee table and settle in with a huge stack of unread magazines. I didn’t miss TV at all.

I normally watch NBC Nightly News every evening at 6:30, fully aware that it’s a narrow, slick, over-produced reduction of what’s happening in the world. Foreign news is almost unheard of in the United States, except for wars affecting U.S. interests and huge natural disasters. If you want a clue that the world beyond the U.S. exists, you need to follow  BBC and consume on-line media from other countries.

I often follow the news with Jeopardy, (a quiz show in the U.S., for which I qualified in 2006, but was never called to appear.) My granny used to watch it, so it’s something of a tradition. I also want to stay in trim as I plan to try out again on my next visit to L.A. The host is Alex Trebek, a fellow Canadian, who once hosted a Canadian quiz show for high school students called Reach For The Top. I was on our school’s team two years in a row and helped take us to the quarter finals.

I enjoy What Not To Wear (which helps you figure out how to dress better) and Project Runway. I avoid all talk shows and political coverage, as I get plenty of that from my print and on-line sources already. How many opinions do I want to hear every day?
The TV stays dark most of the time right now because I’m burned out on the hyper-stimulation, the silliness, the repetition and its incredible time-suck.

I do watch movies, often, and eagerly await the January start, here in the U.S., of the third season of Downton Abbey.

I recently discovered “Wallander”, the original series in Swedish, shot in a town of 18,000 in southern Sweden, and loved it. I was so struck, in one episode, by the dominance of a very specific color, a deep teal — in clothing, wall colors, the evening sky, upholstery. I love the differences in every detail: the cars, the light, the landscape, even the electrical outlets. (I think I need to do some overseas travel soon!)

I had seen the British version, starring Kenneth Branagh, but much prefer the Swedish one.

But here’s a sampling of shows on offer — and why I’m able to resist:

The American Bible Challenge

Jersey Shore

Shocking Hip Hop Moments

High School football

Death Row

Annoying

The Real Housewives of Miami

I’m reading a lot more books. Talking to my husband and friends. Calmer and less distracted.

One friend, whose boys are two and six, limits their entire weekly screen time — including anything with a screen — to one hour every Friday night. Imagine.

Inspired by her discipline, I’m also trying to severely reduce the time I spend staring into any screen, whether phone, Ipad, computer or TV.

In the past few weeks, I’ve re-discovered a lost pleasure, that of diving into a book and disappearing in it for uninterrupted hours. I read, and loved two novels, “The Expats”, by Chris Pavone and Richard Ford’s newest, “Canada.”

Here’s a review of the season’s hottest three new shows, according to New York magazine. I haven’t seen any of them.

Do you watch much TV?

What are you watching these days?

I don’t (only) want to do more faster. Do you?

In behavior, business, culture, domestic life, life, Medicine, Money, urban life, US, work on June 1, 2012 at 12:16 am
productivity

productivity (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Since my wedding in September 2011, (when we took a week off locally afterward), I haven’t taken more than four days off in a row. My last extended vacation was in May 2005, three weeks in Mexico.

I’m taking a month off, starting today — but will still blog here three times a week. I’ll also be working on a book proposal and one or two short articles, but only after the first 12 days of rest, relaxation, seeing friends and family, recharging my spent battery.

In the past 12 months, I’ve:

published my second book; done dozens of media interviews and speaking engagements to promote it; written a new afterword for the paperback, which is out July 31; hired an assistant to help me with all of this; negotiated more speaking engagements; addressed two retail conferences in Minneapolis and New Orleans; gotten married in Toronto; helped my husband deal with kidney stones; had my left hip replaced and done 3x week physical therapy for two months; served on two volunteer boards, and additionally visited Chicago and Toronto for work.

Oh, and blogging here three times a week, working with a screenwriter on the television pilot script for Malled (not picked up), and writing for a living.

Kids, I’m fried!

Time to not be productive, which leads me to this essay raises an important question, and one especially germane to any economy premised on “productivity”:

But there are sectors of the economy where chasing productivity growth doesn’t make sense at all. Certain kinds of tasks rely inherently on the allocation of people’s time and attention. The caring professions are a good example: medicine, social work, education. Expanding our economies in these directions has all sorts of advantages.

In the first place, the time spent by these professions directly improves the quality of our lives. Making them more and more efficient is not, after a certain point, actually desirable. What sense does it make to ask our teachers to teach ever bigger classes? Our doctors to treat more and more patients per hour? The Royal College of Nursing in Britain warned recently that front-line staff members in the National Health Service are now being “stretched to breaking point,” in the wake of staffing cuts, while a study earlier this year in the Journal of Professional Nursing revealed a worrying decline in empathy among student nurses coping with time targets and efficiency pressures. Instead of imposing meaningless productivity targets, we should be aiming to enhance and protect not only the value of the care but also the experience of the caregiver.

The care and concern of one human being for another is a peculiar “commodity.” It can’t be stockpiled. It becomes degraded through trade. It isn’t delivered by machines. Its quality rests entirely on the attention paid by one person to another. Even to speak of reducing the time involved is to misunderstand its value.

The only thing this industrial mindset — speed the production line! -- produces in me is frustration and annoyance.

I also attach value to the production of:

deep friendships; a happy and thriving marriage, my own physical and mental health, daily, and weekly, periods of rest and reflection.

I recently asked a friend, who out-earns me by a factor of 2.5, how she does it. The answer was to quadruple my workload, and at a speed I think probably, for me, unmanageable.

My book “Malled”, which describes my 27 months working as a part-time retail sales associate — supplemented by dozens of original interviews with others in the industry — has brought me paid invitations to address several conferences of senior retail executives. I suggest to them every time that focusing solely on UPTs (units per transaction — i.e. why they try to sell you more shit unasked for, than you want) and sales per hour is not the best or only way to go.

But numbers are safe and comforting. When corporate players hit their numbers, they keep their jobs and get their promotions/bonuses. Metrics rule.

Except when they don’t.

I once spent an hour talking to a female shopper in our store. Turns out we had a lot in common. She spent $800, which remained the single largest sale I ever had there. She also asked if I knew a good local psychotherapist. Not many people would have asked that question of a minimum-wage clothing clerk, but she’d clearly decided to trust me. I did know one and recommended him.

A year later she returned, glowing, with one of her teenage daughters, to thank me for helping her survive a very tough transition in her life.

That “transaction” is completely meaningless in any economic sense.

Yet:

— it enriched the therapist, who well deserved a new client.

– it enriched my customer’s soul, which needed solace.

– it enriched her three daughters’ lives as their mother found help she needed.

– it enriched my heart to know I’d been able to make a good match and help her.

But these powerful emotional connections are routinely dismissed as valueless behavior on any corporate balance sheet — because they can’t be quantified, measured and compared to other metrics.

Which is why I have such a deeply conflicted relationship with capitalism.

How about you?

Do you think working harder and faster is our wisest  or only choice?

Balcony Life: Helicopters, Turkey Vultures, Stars

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2010 at 11:21 am
Red-tailed Hawk

Image via Wikipedia

The true sign of summer at our home, a one-bedroom apartment with little closet space, is when we start living on our balcony, a space 12 feet wide by six feet. For such a small amount of real estate, it makes us feel like millionaires.

We’re on the top floor, the sixth floor, with uninterrupted views of the Hudson River, a few miles to the west. Every weekday (grrrrr) it’s the damn helicopter of David Rockefeller thudding to and from his enormous estate just up the road. Last night it was a police helicopter, its searchlight sweeping the horizon and capturing us in its beam. Every day, since flight paths were changed, we have a steady stream of  private and commercial jets, some flying way too low for our comfort.

But it’s the birds that make it most interesting. I was deeply engrossed in a newspaper story a few years ago when I heard a “whoosh!”

Whoosh? A red-tailed hawk had swooped so close I heard the wind through its feathers. Same thing happened this morning as the sweetie read the paper and a turkey vulture overflew the roof. “Maybe I should move around a bit more,” he said nervously.

One of the sweetie’s specific talents is rescuing the tiny sparrows who fly into our windows and stun themselves. If we get to them quickly enough, a few drops of water and a little careful attention, and off they fly.

A few summer ago, a hawk landed on the balcony railing. I’d written a story about raptors, even having one perch on my arm, so I knew their eyesight is extraordinary. This one stared into my eyes for minutes. Neither of us moved. The sweetie, with quick reflexes, managed to find and focus his camera in time to capture its image.

Then it flew off, leaving only a few grains of sand from its talons as proof I hadn’t just hallucinated.

Last night I finally slept outdoors on the balcony. The night air was fresh and cool, a few stars visible, the dull rumble of bridge traffic only growing quiet around 2:00 a.m. The morning light streamed across the yellow and orange marigolds and strawflowers, now at my eye level.

Heaven.

Got Time To Read This? Two Meditations On How We (Should) Use Our Hours

In behavior on June 19, 2010 at 9:25 am
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My favorite weekly read is the weekend FT, and its columnists. One, a 48-year-old executive named Mrs. Moneypenny, bristling with an MBA and Phd, a woman who refers to her three children in print as Cost Centres #1, #2 and #3, says every hour of her business time — and is there any other for the high-flying exec? — is worth 3,000 pounds — about $4,440. She dares not waste a minute and never takes vacation.

But a recent 360 review by her staff suggests she should “waste” some time posthaste:

The general consensus is that the pace at which I work and the number of things I take on alarms my colleagues, who believe it has the potential to be counterproductive. Above all, they fear for my health – and that is a commonly held view, not merely one aired by two or three people. So yes, perhaps I ought to slow down a little. And to show how willing I am to change, the very same week I was presented with these comments I had lunch at the Wolseley with a former Master of the Universe.

Normally, I hate lunch appointments, believing them to be a mammoth waste of time. If you include travelling time, it is likely to take up two hours, or a £6,000 opportunity cost to my business. But this MOTU was too charming to refuse. He pointed me in the direction of John Updike’s poem “Midpoint”, written at the end of his 35th year. I only ever read fiction and poetry when I’m on holiday – doing so at any other time is an extravagance (especially at £3,000 an hour). But after an hour with this guy, I would have tackled Plato in the original had he suggested it. The final lines of the poem read: “Born laughing, I’ve believed in the Absurd, / Which brought me this far; henceforth, if I can, / I must impersonate a serious man.”

I am 48, not 35, and maybe it is time to start being serious.

Laura Vanderkam, another driven urban woman — mother of two small children, sings in a choir, attends church, runs every day — has written a new book called 168 Hours, the number of hours every fresh week offers us, if we would just stop wasting it.

I have mixed feelings about this notion of “wasted” time. I love the Italian phrase farniente -- literally — “do nothing” and aspire to a life with far more undirected time. I also love the British expression for day-dreaming — wool-gathering. We all need time to fantasize and imagine, to stare into the sky and let our weary, overcaffeinated brains….chill.

Last week, the sweetie and I took a vacation and drove to Quebec where we stay at a lovely, small, quiet lakeside hotel. Our plan of “action”? Eat, sleep, read, take photos, repeat. Plus a little antiquing — where the local shopowner remembered me from our last visit 3.5 years ago — and an hour’s canoeing.

This morning, (and it’s 9:11 as I write this on a glorious sunny June Saturday), I’ve: read 1.5 newspapers, watered the plants, made and consumed coffee and toast, blogged, washed the kitchen floor, discussed what paint we need to paint our terrace door. That’s in less than two hours. Yesterday, racing to finish my book, I worked at the computer for about 10 hours — I thought my eyeballs would melt.

I’m whipped and already ready for a nap. (And, no, I have no pets or kids, so my time is my own.)

Rest. Relax. Recharge. Restore. Revive. I think we all need more of it, and less of this boot-camp, finger-wagging instruction in efficiency. I plan to make highly efficient carefully-monitored use of my time when I am dead. I’ll have so much more of it anyway.

Do you waste time? What do you do with it? Do you think we should all be productive and organized all the time?

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