Business

TECH SUPPORT – WHERE “BAD” IS THE NEW “GOOD”

Bad customer and technical support is the new good. You only think it’s bad. The problem is your attitude. Or so they’d have you think.

YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE

Death cust servAll the big technology companies are working hard to save a few bucks. The competition is fierce. Every penny counts. Since executives won’t accept lower pay nor will stockholders accept lower returns, it’s customers who fill the cost-cutting gap.

In the race to be the cheapest, tech companies stopped including chargers with devices. No manuals. No system software. No reinstallation software. Short power cords that don’t go from an outlet to a desktop. No connector for printers, speakers or whatever. Everything you need to finish setting up costs extra.

Customer service was the first thing to go. They hired people who don’t know anything, don’t understand or speak English. For all I know, they don’t understand or speak Spanish either. They aren’t trained, don’t know the products. And since manufacturers no longer include documentation, you don’t have the option of taking care of it yourself.

No company — not cameras, computers or software — includes documentation. I became obsolete years ago when the industry decided no one reads the manuals. So they fired the tech writers, put some generated information in an online PDF. They figured customer service techs would handle the fallout. But they don’t. Many of us would be happy to fix minor glitches but have no alternative to spending our time on the phone, frustrated and angry.

THE PLAN IN ACTION

You can’t say they didn’t have a plan. The big corporations indeed had a plan. A bad one.Customer Service waiting

It was so bad, it was immediately adopted by everyone. Globally.

It’s not a Microsoft problem, a Dell problem, or any company’s individual problem, though some are more awful than others and a few are notorious. It’s a cross-industry problem, affecting virtually every organization in this country.

Bad is the new good. Because good is remarkable.

WOULD IT KILL THEM TO INCLUDE A MANUAL?

CustServCartoon In every industry, business, service — service support stinks. It doesn’t matter where you go. You’ll get the same lousy service. It’s the great leveler.

Sometimes, you get lucky. The guy or gal you connect with actually knows the product and you think “Wow, that wasn’t bad! Maybe it’s improving.” The next time, it’s the same old, same old.

AMAZON – THE BRIGHT SPOT

There is a bright spot. Amazon and Audible (a subsidiary of Amazon) still have terrific customer service. That could change any time on the whim of a company exec, but for now, it’s great.

It’s no accident I shop through Amazon. They offer really good service. You have a problem, they go out of their way to make it right. You need to return something? They don’t question you, make you jump through hoops.

I wish I could buy everything from them.

Mom and Pop – Closed For Business

Mom and Pop. The backbone of American business. Or used to be.

They are the official symbol of our nation’s best. The hardest workers. The folks who built our towns and cities. How wonderful it is to do business with our neighbors and friends rather than faceless corporate franchises. (Careful. Our friends and neighbors work for those franchises. Mom and pop shops don’t offer a lot of job opportunities.)

Every day, it gets harder to find a mom and pop business. You can blame it all on corporate greed — pushing out small businesses. Nice to have someone to blame. Pity it’s not true. Or not quite as true as we would like. Blaming heartless corporations is a simple, feel-good fix, even if it doesn’t make much sense.

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We love simple answers and if we can’t find one, we make one up. The world keeps changing. So does what people want for themselves and their kids. Labor intensive small retail businesses were — for many years — the bulwark of America’s Main Street. But they aren’t appealing to today’s computer-savvy kids. The kids in this generation are more likely to want a shot at a seat in the boardroom of one of those faceless corporations. They have redefined The American Dream.

Who does want to run those little businesses? Immigrants. The people we seem determined to keep out or get rid of. They don’t see long hours of hard work as punishment. They see it as opportunity. It’s American kids who see mom and pop’s business as a dead-end.

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It’s a matter of how you look at it. Most of our small general stores, if they haven’t already been knocked down to make way for a CVS or Stop & Shop, are being run by recent arrivals from India, Pakistan and Asia. They work long hours, put they hearts into it and do well. They go out of their way to build relationships with their customers. And they succeed. Immigrants have always been the true bulwark of the “American dream” because they came here full of dreams.

The original Mom and Pop? They got old. Their kids never wanted to work at the family deli, restaurant or ice cream shop, so as soon as a better offer came along, they took it. Moreover, Mom and Pop didn’t send the kids to college so they could slave their lives away like they had, so they’re onboard. That was always the plan.

fresh eggs

One by one, family run businesses are closing. Young Americans don’t want to work so many hours for such small returns. The older generation agrees. You and me may want to support them, but they are no longer looking for our support. They want to retire. If they can’t find a buyer for the business, they will sell the land to the highest bidder.

Is it unreasonable to profit from long years of sweat and labor? Everyone knows small retail businesses — unless they find a niche market that doesn’t put them in head-to-head competition with corporate franchises — barely survive, even with community support.

I’d gladly support local small businesses, but who? One by one, our restaurants, delis, gift shops, independent groceries, book stores are going away. There is only one independent bookstore in the Valley now. There never were many, but now, just one.

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Independent drug stores? Gone. Small clothing shops? None. We have a few delis, restaurants, hair dressers and fingernail shops. Services do okay, but not retail shops. Restaurants, especially if they serve alcohol do okay. You can always find a couple of tattoo parlors. A lumber yard with two branches and a hardware store. Everyone else sold, closed and moved away.

We are grateful to haveWalmart. Without it we’d have no place to shop for anything without driving 25 miles to the mall where we would merely be buying from different corporations. We need someplace to buy dish towels, paper goods and bathmats. The place to go if the microwave suddenly dies or I break another coffee carafe. Walmart did not displace local businesses. We never had many and now, even fewer. Maybe a hundred years ago, but not in the last 50.

Good bye, Mom. Good bye, Pop. We miss you, but I understand. You worked hard. You want some time off now and an easier life for your kids. Welcome newcomers. Prejudice and politics be damned. I’m glad to have you in my town.

FOR ONE CENT PLAIN

I got an email from AT&T. It was alarming. I was overdue on my bill! They were going to report me to collection agencies, send it to all those companies that decide whether or not you deserve to have a credit card or a mortgage.

I was surprised because I paid the bill. On time. Online. I know I did.

Obverse side of a 1990 issued US Penny. Pictur...

So, after resetting my password — it doesn’t matter how many times I set my password … the next time I go to AT&T’s website, I will have to do it again — I looked at my bill. Somehow, I had underpaid the bill by a penny. One cent. $00.01

In retribution for my oversight, AT&T is going to sic the collection agency on me. I deserve to pay big for this lapse in fiscal responsibility.Though I actually think it was their error, not mine, but let’s not quibble.

Paying the bill!

Paying the bill!

There are many battles to fight in life. One must pick amongst them lest one be overwhelmed. This giant corporation is going to destroy my credit for want of a penny. This is what happens when computers run the world and no people monitor what they are doing. I’m sure this was all automatically generated. I am equally certain if I’d called them, they would have cancelled the bill. AT&T has pretty good customer service. But that would take even more time and effort. I fondly believe my time, even retired, is worth more than a penny.

So I paid the bill. I wasn’t actually sure my bank would let me pay a one cent bill, but they did.

One cent. Just one cent. Mind boggling.

Daily Prompt: No Fair — AS SEEN ON TV

The advertisement pointed out a truth. Any company which needs to depend on binding contracts and punitive early withdrawal fees to keep customers from fleeing to other providers isn’t doing a good job. I was nodding agreement when I realized that the source of the advert was Charter Communications, one of the biggest thieves in the corporate world. Cable companies are — for good reason — the most hated service providers in these United States. The rage many of us hold towards our cable companies is intense. Mine alone could probably, if harnessed as raw energy, power a small city.

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Yet there they are. The biggest, baddest bald-faced liars, deploring the business practices of other companies — companies that have marketplace competitors. Unlike Charter and other cable providers who have a monopoly on services for the areas they “service.”

We don’t choose them. We have no choice. If we want digital service — Internet, television and sometimes telephones — we have to use them. It’s un-American, wrong, infuriating. It’s no fair!!

We’re not fleeing to other providers because we can’t. The way these services are structured, there’s only one game in town. For us, it’s Charter. For other’s, it’s Warner or Comcast or whatever.

In this day and age, it’s hard to believe anyone can argue that Internet, television and broadband are luxuries rather than necessities. Yet the last time I talked to someone at Charter’s customer disservice, she told me I don’t need Internet service. Don’t need a telephone. Or television. I think I swallowed my tongue. I don’t remember. I was so angry my mind went hazy and the remainder of the conversation is (probably mercifully) a blur.

I almost chipped a tooth watching that ad on television. The level of misleadingness (is that a word? it ought to be) was profound. How dare they? Aren’t there any laws about this sort of thing? What happened to truth in advertising?

My office by window lightWhat happened to truth?

All of us have a great many things about which to be angry. If I get started, I might never stop. I would never run out of things I’m mad about, that are unjust, unfair, totally not okay but with which I have to put up because I have no choice.

The state of the economy, the state of the world, the state of everything.

The horrible way companies treat us while taking our hard-earned money. The lies we are told by corporations, by our elected representatives. By supposed news purveyors. Even by people we know and believed we could trust. Not to mention (okay, I just mentioned them) the lies we tell ourselves. I hate those most of all because it’s so hard to find someone to blame.

I try not to think about it because it’s just going to make my blood pressure go up and that wouldn’t be good.

But honestly. Talk about nerve! Charter Communications, distributors of the most over-priced, erratic services. With the worst customer service on earth. They are taking the moral high ground? Really? Mind you these are people who manage to so alienate their customers they lose money while holding a monopoly, a company that would never survive actual market competition and which apparently is unlikely to survive even with the deck stacked in their favor.

How come we don’t form an angry mob and storm their offices? I’ll go if you will!

Mom and Pop – Closed For Business

Mom and Pop. American political mythology declares them the backbone of business.

They are the official symbol of our nation’s best, the hardest workers. The folks who build our towns and cities. How fine it is to do business with neighbors and friends rather than faceless corporate franchise operations. Oh, wait. Our friends and neighbors work for those conglomerates. So aren’t we dealing with them anyhow?

Every day, it gets harder to find a Mom and Pop business. Blame it all on corporate greed pushing out small businesses, if you like. Always nice to have someone to blame. Too bad it’s not true. Or, not as true as we would like it to be.

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We love simple answers and if we can’t find one, we’ll make one up. The world keeps changing. So does what people want for themselves and their kids. Labor intensive small retail businesses have long been the bulwark of America’s Main Street but they aren’t appealing to today’s computer-savvy kids who are far more likely to want a shot at the boardroom of one of those aforementioned faceless corporations.

Who does want to run those little businesses? Immigrants. The people we are so determined to get keep out of our country or get rid of. They don’t see long hours and hard work as punishment. They see it as an opportunity. It’s American kids who see mom and pop’s business as a dead-end.

75-WindowSigns-NK-GA_1044

Everyone has a piece of the truth. It’s a matter of how you look at it. Most of our small general stores, if they haven’t already been knocked down to make way for a CVS or Stop & Shop, are being run by recent arrivals from India, Pakistan and Asia. They work long hours, put they hearts into it and do well. They go out of their way to build relationships with their customers. And they succeed. Immigrants have always been the true bulwark of the “American dream” because they came here full of dreams.

The original Mom and Pop? They got old. Their kids never wanted to work at the family deli, restaurant or ice cream shop, so as soon as a better offer came along, they took it. Moreover, Mom and Pop didn’t send the kids to college so they could slave their lives away like they had, so they’re onboard. That was always the plan.

fresh eggs

One by one, family run businesses are closing. Young Americans don’t want to work so many hours for such small returns. The older generation agrees. You and me may want to support them, but they are no longer looking for our support. They want to retire. If they can’t find a buyer for the business, they will sell the land to the highest bidder.

Is it unreasonable to profit from long years of sweat and labor? Everyone knows small retail businesses — unless they find a niche market that doesn’t put them in head-to-head competition with corporate franchises — barely survive, even with community support.

I’d gladly support local small businesses, but who? One by one, our restaurants, delis, gift shops, independent groceries, book stores are going away. There is only one independent bookstore in the Valley now. There never were many, but now, just one.

96-CountryStoreHP-3

Independent drug stores? Gone. Small clothing shops? None. We have a few delis, restaurants, hair dressers and fingernail shops. Services do okay, but not retail shops. Restaurants, especially if they serve alcohol do okay. You can always find a couple of tattoo parlors. A lumber yard with two branches and a hardware store. Everyone else sold, closed and moved away.

We are grateful to haveWalmart. Without it we’d have no place to shop for anything without driving 25 miles to the mall where we would merely be buying from different corporations. We need someplace to buy dish towels, paper goods and bathmats. The place to go if the microwave suddenly dies or I break another coffee carafe. Walmart did not displace local businesses. We never had many and now, even fewer. Maybe a hundred years ago, but not in the last 50.

Good bye, Mom. Good bye, Pop. We miss you, but I understand. You worked hard. You want some time off now and an easier life for your kids. Welcome newcomers. Prejudice and politics be damned. I’m glad to have you in my town.

Prompts for the Promptless: Episode 3 : Catch That Running Gag!

PromptlessEP3

Ball Gag lay in the dark at the bottom of the closet amidst the rubble of discarded sex toys. He fondly remembered the good old days when The Master and Mistress used him and all his friends to play exciting games every night. Sunk in nostalgia, Ball Gag remembered the crack of the whip, the moans, the screams, the foul language. Those were great days.

Then came the babies and the jobs. PTA and late hours at work. Master and Mistress were tired and busy and they no longer came to The Closet to play with all the toys.

Ball Gag wondered if he were actually getting rusty from disuse. The idea so appalled him, that he began to shiver, which made him rattle and set up a noisy clamor as the various chains, clamps, and other metal things banged against one another. Ball Gag tried to move and surprised himself.

“I can move!” he thought. “How can I do this?”

He realized — to his amazement — he had eyes and could see. From his little round body, itty bitty arms and teeny tiny legs clothed in pointy shoes had sprouted.

“FREEDOM!” he cried and began to throw himself at the closet door. It gave way easily and he found himself in the master bedroom. Light streamed in from the windows, covered by … what? Fluffy lace?

Repelled by the sight of so much light and fluff, Ball Gag … at first hesitantly, then with more sureness in his steps … marched to the hallway.  His leather straps scraped along the floor, but apparently no one was home to hear the racket. He tucked up his tiny arms and legs and rolled clackety-clack down the stairs, clambered out the mail slot and onto the front walk.

FREEDOM!” he screamed again and began to run.

That was when the cops spotted him.

“Catch him!” they cried, talking to each other and calling into the precinct on their radios. “It’s a running gag!!”

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Charge! Address the Mess!

My world runs on rechargeable batteries.

Three laptops, two Kindles, two cellphones, six cameras, four mouses (mice have fur and make squeaky noises, mouses attach to your computer), wireless keyboards, GPS, various clocks, flashlights, who-knows-how-many remote controls, electric razors, tooth cleaning machines, and a mind-numbing array of miscellaneous devices I can’t remember off-hand. To keep the world running, Other than those things that run on AAA and AA rechargeable batteries, everything else uses some kind of proprietary battery. I do not understand why camera makers feel obliged to use a different battery for each camera model. Surely they could design at least all cameras of one type to use the same battery.

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I don’t always realize how dependent we are on batteries and chargers until I’m packing for vacation. Half a carry-on bag is entirely allocated to chargers and wires. And that’s just for items we use while traveling: laptop accessories,  Kindles, cell phones, mouses, portable speakers, cameras and accessories. Laptops and cameras have their own cases … but there’s never enough room for the chargers.

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I used to pack all the chargers and wires carefully, all coiled and tied to avoid tangling. One day, I gave up. Now I shove the chargers and wires in a bag and untangle as needed.

At home, I have to keep track of what needs charging and which chargers they use. There are so many I finally was unable to remember which batteries went with which gadget. I really had to address the mess.

The floor of my office is covered with wires and power strips. I’m afraid to walk anywhere because I might step on something fragile.

I did what I do best: research. There are solutions. Not all power strips are the same, and there’s a whole new generation designed to address exactly the problems we all have with too many chargers and power supplies. Some of them are quite pricey, some more affordable. It’s still cheaper to buy a generic strip at Walmart or Target. But you may actually wind up with more usable space if you pay a bit more and get a strip designed to accommodate various sizes and shapes.

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These deal with the problem of oddly shaped and variously sized chargers and power supplies, both strips and as wall sockets.

Let’s start with the Belkin Pivot Surge Protectors. These are available in a 3 versions: a 6-outlet wall mounted version, plus 2 corded versions (6 and 8 foot).

There is extra space between sockets and most also pivot and rotate to let you use all the outlets without waste. Belkin products are usually high quality and they are well-known for their surge protectors. Of course, you may or may not actually need surge protection, but most of these units include it.

I put surge protectors on computers and printers. Battery chargers are cheap and easy to replace and anyway, surges aren’t my problem. Power outages are more likely to be the problem, but a surge protector is no help with that.

Lightning is a problem. Surge protectors are useless against lightning.

We’ve been hit by lightning on three occasions. The first strike was on a utility pole in front of the house. It took out two computers and a printer. The second took down a tree, but no equipment. The third strike killed the well pump which is more than 450 feet underground. That’s how I learned that lightning can strike underground. Apparently the combination of electricity, metal, and water is very attractive to lightning. Well pumps are expensive and not necessarily covered by home insurance.

Lightening is incredibly powerful. Anything plugged in when lightning strikes will get fried. The only thing that will protect against lightning is having your equipment physically unplugged when it strikes. Just a bit of advice from someone who has learned her lesson the hard way.

Insurance will replace equipment, but no one will replace lost data. For that you need a backup on a separate drive.

Prices for the Belkin surge protectors (on Amazon) range from about $18 for the wall-mounted unit, to $25 for the 12-outlet unit with an 8-foot cord, to $27 for the 8-outlet surge protector with a 6-foot cord. The 8-outlet is a very different design and lets you rotate the outlets so that you can use all of the outlets regardless of the size or shape of the chargers or power supplies you want to plug in.

The design of the 8-outlet unit spreads the outlets along a round, wand-like strip that lets you configure the sockets to fit a wide variety of variously sized and shaped chargers and power supplies.

Quite a bit of creativity has gone into some of the designs. By the way, all of these are available on Amazon.

The creative solutions don’t end here. The Kensington 62634 SmartSockets 6-Outlet 16 Foot Cord Table Top Circular Color Coded Power Strip and Surge Protector looks like an electrified lazy Susan. Designed to put in the middle of a conference table so participants can all plug their laptops in at the same time, you could as easily use it on the floor.

It’s rather pricey at more than $40, but it is very cool and if you need a table top strip, this is probably a good choice.

For 25% less, Quirky makes something similar. The white Quirky Pivot Power 6 Outlet Flexible Surge Protector Power Strip costs a couple of dollars less than the identical unit in black. I have no idea why.

Though not cheap, it is not as expensive as the Kensington or Belkin units, nor as fancy. The sockets rotate, but don’t swivel. If you can live without swiveling and color coding, you can get one of these for just under $30. Exactly what will work for you, whether or not any of these will be right for you, depends on the shape of the space you have and how many devices and chargers you have.

If, like me, your charger problem extends into your kitchen and bathroom, there are wall-mounted units for that let you rotate outlets.

360 Electrical 36035-W 4-Outlet Rotating Surge Protector

You can keep your electric razor and water pic plugged in and still have somewhere to attach the hair dryer or curling iron. And if, like my husband, you want to play the radio while you do your daily ablutions, you have a plug for that too. At about $15, it’s a real problem-solver. There are other versions made for kitchen appliances that come with more outlets in some fascinating shapes.

My personal favorite and what consider the most power strip for the least money is Ideative’s Socket Sense 6-Outlet Expandable Surge Protector, 3-Foot Cord. It’s simple and costs just $15. You can set the spacing as needed. Since the equipment in our life keeps changing, I’m attracted by a strip that I can adapt to changing requirements. I have two of them and need one more.

Ideative Socket Sense 6-Outlet Expandable Surge Protector, 3-foot Cord

Ideative’s strips are comparatively simple. No rotating or color coding outlets, but you can make the space between outlets larger or smaller, so most things should fit easily. The sockets are angled to make it easier to plug stuff in.

There are more. Tripp Lite makes a series of high voltage surge protecting traditional strips that have as many as 24 outlets.

They are expensive and much higher tech than I need, but it depends on what you need … and the size of your budget, because those babies cost upwards of $50 apiece.

Below is a cord splitter, one alternative to a strip. I have one in my office and it has the advantage that any size device will fit into any plug. These are also sometimes called hubs and may include special sockets for charging USB devices, or hooking up phone lines. I also have a hub like this on my desk that gives me an extra five USB outlets. Just be aware that not every device operates properly through a hub; some devices need to be plugged directly into the computer.

Civilization probably wouldn’t survive the loss of electricity, but until the world as we know it comes to an end, at the very least we can make life a little easier. All you need is willingness to do the research … and a credit card. With some credit on it.

Like so many problems in life, if you throw money at it, you can make it to go away. More or less.

 

The Best Parts

One of the oddest adjustments one has to make in retirement is how everything transforms into “hobbies” and “activities.” No matter if you spent a lifetime doing something professionally, our society has specific definitions of “professional,”which is you have to earn money doing it. Professional equals paycheck. No matter how hard one labors, it’s not work if you don’t get paid.

Whereas in the past, I got paid to be a writer, writing is now favorite pastime or activity. I think it’s rather a bit past “hobby.” I am no less a professional now than ever. I no longer do only what I’m paid to do, but work harder to be a better writer than I did when leashed to an office and bosses. Deadlines are no less rigid because I set them. My standards are no lower. Just no one sends me a check. Pity. I could use the money.

How do you define a thing that is an essential part of you? Something you need to do or you feel like a piece of you is broken or missing? Is that an activity? A hobby? That seems a trivialization, doesn’t it? The best part of writing now as opposed to then is freedom. I can be playful or serious, topical, timely, or ramble off into the mists of obscurity.

The only one with authority to rein me in is me. As a blogger, I get direct input. If no one likes what I’ve written and no one reads it, that’s a hint I’ve strayed or at least need to rethink my presentation.

I’m stubborn. If I’ve written a piece I believe is good, I will keep redoing it and putting it back up until finally, it gets the notice I think it deserves. I tweak it with each pass but fundamentally, the story stays the same. If nothing else, these long years have given me enough confidence to know if it’s a good piece or not. It is one of the painful ironies that many of the pieces I don’t like are much more popular than the ones I know are better. C’est la guerre.

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Photography really is a hobby. I’ve been taking pictures nearly as long as I’ve been writing. My first camera came into my life when I was a young married woman with a baby. I had been painting and experiencing more success than I could handle. I don’t have any paintings left because I sold every one of them. I often sold them before I was halfway done. Friends and their friends would come, look and buy. It sucked the fun out of it. It was also logistically difficult. I didn’t have a studio and having cats, dogs and a baby, I couldn’t leave projects around unless I was actively working on them. It’s hard to lock up a painting in progress.

When I was 23, a friend gave me a camera, a couple of minutes of instruction and a few rolls of black and white film. Off I went on vacation. I had no idea it would be the start of a love affair with photography that would never end.

Unlike writing, my forays into professional photography were brief. I quickly realized I didn’t want to do baby pictures and weddings. Luckily, I had other professional choices and could keep photography as a thing of love, unsullied by commercial considerations.

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Forty years later, I continue to strive for some kind of perfection, trying to grow my technical skills (always my weak point) and to try new and different forms. Photography is a perfect hobby. You never outgrow it. It never gets boring. It may empty out your bank account from time to time, but many hobbies cost more and return less satisfaction for the investment.

What was the question? Oh, right … what activities and hobbies do I pursue. And here it is: I write. I take pictures. I put them together and call them stories or blogs. I will continue doing this until they carry me away.

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Early light on a dusting of snow …

The early light just after dawn always has a special quality. Its color varies from season to season, more golden or amber in Autumn, deep yellow in summer, pale, almost pink in springtime.  This time of year, full winter, there’s slate bluish light.

Just after sunrise, it’s pale yellow … but after that, for a brief few minutes, it blushes to a pink that paints the whole woods in its light.

This morning, there was a light powdering of snow across the ground and on the deck. It was gone by mid morning … but thanks to the magic of digital photography, the memories linger on.

My lance, my windmill, and my mighty steed

Nothing is simple. No matter how it looks on the surface, no project goes as planned. No vacation is perfect. Some part of the meal will not be ready when the rest of the dishes are done. Guests come early or late, leave too soon or not nearly soon enough.  Complications are the inevitable companion to everything.

Old South Church steeple

Old South Church steeple

Our fondest illusion, the one we hold most dear, is that we control our own lives, design our destiny. It’s the greatest promise of youth, the one that gives us the energy to charge off into life. We need to believe if we do the right stuff, go to the right schools, work hard, plan carefully, save against a rainy day … if we do “life” right, we will get what we want.

Good work gets rewarded, kindness will be returned, generosity appreciated. Moreover, if we eat right, keep fit, exercise, avoid drugs, cigarettes and alcohol, we will be healthy forever. Even if we don’t, statistics are just numbers: the bad stuff won’t happen to us. And of course, when we marry, it will be the right person and ours will be the love that lasts.

Crosswalk shadow

From the smallest things that go wrong, to the marriages that don’t last … to the jobs we lose when the company goes belly up or we are declared unnecessary or obsolete … we get stripped of our illusions. We learn that doing the right stuff doesn’t always yield the results we expected or the rewards we deserve. We discover that injustice comes in an endless variety of shapes and sizes, from the tiniest indignities to incomprehensible disasters. No one is spared, no one is immune. Whether slowly but surely or suddenly and without warning, we realize we are passengers on the bus that is life.

We are not driving the bus and don’t even know what road we are on.

Our plans for immortality are interrupted by unexpected illness. Friends and family are taken from us. The sickly partner lives, against all logic and reason, a long life and the apparently healthy, fit one is felled by accident or disease. We plan for a future that is never ours. There is a future, but it’s inevitably a surprise. Perhaps that’s the way it ought to be.

Bridge over the Little Colorado

Small choices are always in our grasp … the clothing we wear, which movie we see, with whom we share our lives. Beyond that, we might as well relax and enjoy the ride. Rich or poor, it’s the same for us all. Control is illusory. Man plans, God laughs. So why not laugh too?

Bus Crash

After a lifetime of trying to drive the bus, I got it. I could try my best and do what I can, but in the end, the bus is going wherever it’s going and I have nothing to say in the matter. I can enjoy myself or I can be miserable, but I’m not in charge.

I’ve gotten better at enjoying the ride and not making myself and everyone else crazy because I don’t like the bus, don’t know the driver, and apparently have no idea where I’m going. Although I still try to wrest the steering wheel from the steely grasp of the driver, I know I’m going to lose.

For every battle in which I engage and take away some small victory, there are dozens that I emerge from beaten, tired, pissed off … and in exactly in the same place I started. I keep relearning the same lessons. I recognize the futility of what I do, but sometimes I do it anyhow. I need to fight back, rail against fate. However futile it may be, sometimes I have to tilt at a few windmills.

That’s why I write. Because words are my lance, the world with all it’s injustice is my windmill. The internet? That’s my mighty steed.

Awards Time

Marilyn Armstrong:

I won’t have time to properly thank Tyson for this very special award for next couple of days, but it seemed like letting him speak in his own words would be a good temporary fix :-) Lately, I feel almost embarrassed at the number of awards and accolades coming my way … to such an extent that I have spent a whole lot more time than anyone should trying to figure out why … ultimately concluding that (a) I must be doing something right, and (b) people have run out of other candidates.
But of course, that’s not really true, because no matter how many awards you get, or I get, I never give them to anyone that I don’t genuinely feel deserves recognition.

There’s another issue involved: In our daily lives, most of us don’t get recognition. We work, we do what we are supposed to do, what we have to do, what we are expected to do by others and ourselves. In my 40 years of work, I’ve gotten very little recognition beyond the occasional “Good job, Marilyn.” No statuettes (Garry has a lot of them!) plaques, etc. I just didn’t work in that kind of industry. No annual awards. Having a job IS the reward. Now, with blogging, I feel like I’m making up for lost time. I will pass this (and another couple of awards) to others. I hope I can make a few other folks feel that their efforts are not going for naught.

Meanwhile, to my faithful audience, please feel free to express your admiration with large cash donations :-)

Thank you all for finding my stuff interesting enough to read, look at, comment on … and even send me the occasional piece of hate mail. In this society, without hate mail, you hardly count in this world.

Originally posted on Head In A Vice:

Awards

Over the past few weeks I have been lucky enough to receive a few of these online awards that are doing the rounds. I always take them in the way I think they are intended, and that way being from one blogger to another who likes or appreciates your work. I know some people dismiss them, and that’s cool, to each their own, but I feel that the person choosing me and my site at the very least deserves a public thankyou!

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The Backstretch – Life in the Slow Lane

It’s the backstretch of the year. My endless project will be over, good or ill, at the end of the month. So will Christmas. As for the insanity with which I live, that, I fear, will accompany me into the glad New Year and quite possibly to the end of time, or at least … MY time.

I thought retirement might be dull. I thought it would be … maybe … slower-paced than working was. I was certainly convinced I would have much more time to do stuff, all kinds of stuff, that I didn’t get to do when I was working. Hah!

Queen's Christmas tree at Windsor Castle 1848,...

Queen’s Christmas tree at Windsor Castle 1848.

A year ago last August, I was at a retirement party for a friend. Early retirement, I should add. In a rare act of sanity, he hit 60, his pension vested, and he said “Lemme outta here!!!!” and due to actually having at some point done some financial planning, plus a bit of good luck, he could. And did.

So I said, this being a very good friend of many long years standing (and sitting, and falling over, laughing, eating, and whatevering), let’s see if we can fit some time to actually visit a bit more often.

He said, and this is a quote: “Now that I’m retiring, I’ll have plenty of time.” He didn’t know yet, but he sure found out fast enough.

I didn’t stop laughing for days. He hasn’t had a moment to breathe since he quit working. Neither he nor I can figure out how he managed to fit a fulltime job into his life.

Retirement Ceremony

Retirement Ceremony (Photo credit: born1945)

Retirement … a misnomer if ever I heard one … is like jumping into a pool of still water. For a brief few moment, you will see the rings spreading out from where your body went under. Then, the surface will again flatten out into a mirror of smoothness. Life, the waters thereof, have taken you in.

Beneath that silken surface is a roiling mass of tasks, catastrophes, obligations, incomplete projects and Lord only knows what else … much of which has been waiting for your arrival for many long years. As you slide under the surface, hands begin to grab at you, voices come in every direction. Your parents need your help. Your children, grandchildren, the house, the cars, volunteer projects all bang you over the head.

When did I volunteer for that? you ask … but you won’t remember. Don’t bother trying. “You’re making that up,” you mumble, convinced that everyone has lost their minds, that you have slipped down a rabbit hole or through wormhole into an alternate universe. No, just retirement. It’s like that.

You don’t have spare time. You don’t have any time. You’re lucky if you have the time to get a little nap now and then.

Analyze the word and it will make more sense. Re (to repeat); tire (exhaustion and lack of sleep); ment (whatever). You are becoming tired again. Just when you thought you were going to have all that free time, leisure, naps in the warm summer afternoons … hah!

Getting old is definitely not for the faint of heart.

First snow, just a dusting …

It’s like an early warning system. It’s not really cold enough for snow to stick around, though it’s cold enough after the sun goes down to cling to tree branches and  unpaved surfaces.

Like powdered sugar dropped on our cake, the world is lightly covered in white. It’s not the real thing and it will be gone by afternoon. Not enough to shovel or even to disrupt traffic, but it’s a bell ringing that says “winter is on the way … ” Shake out the sweaters, find last year’s boots and coats. It’s coming … but for now, it’s just a nudge, a suggestion, a hint of what lies ahead.

Signing on the dotted line … Truth in Small Print

 

See on Scoop.itForty Two: Life and Other Important Things

Okay, tell the truth. When did you really read those terms and conditions? Huh? Ever? Really? Let’s have some honesty here!

See on pinterest.com

 

A Poem to the Thawing Wind

A Poem to the Thawing Wind

By Robert Frost

 

Come with rain, O loud Southwester!
Bring the singer, bring the nester;
Give the buried flower a dream;
Make the settled snow-bank steam;
Find the brown beneath the white;
But whate’er you do to-night,
Bathe my window, make it flow,
Melt it as the ice will go;
Melt the glass and leave the sticks
Like a hermit’s crucifix;
Burst into my narrow stall;
Swing the picture on the wall;
Run the rattling pages o’er;
Scatter poems on the floor;
Turn the poet out of door.

Posters

Like many photographers, I’ve experimented with manipulating images to look like paintings, posters, line drawing, and other art forms.  These three came out nicely, I think. I don’t know if they are photographs anymore. I think after a sufficient amount of manipulation, it may be photography based art, but it’s no longer photography per se.

This is a marshy area along the Blackstone River. It’s a manipulated image that intentionally resembles a poster.

The roof on an old mansion not far from home.

Definitely poster style! Black-eyed Susans, one of my favorite wild flowers.