Pulling Swords from Stones

Have you ever seen that old Disney film, The Sword in the Stone? A young orphan named Arthur manages to pull a double-edged sword from the stone where it had been embedded for years. Sometimes, that is what working on a collaborative project feels like.

I thought about this over the past weekend when my daughter was trying to complete a group project for a college course, due on Sunday night. Her frustration was palpable as they worked to get it in on time, but several members had bald excuses for not pulling their weight. That’s an experience most of us have had. It’s always frustrating, because it puts the success of the project at risk.

The challenge of collaboration is that you’re working with people who have their own set of challenges with which they they must contend. Sometimes you, yourself, are in a position where you must ask others to pull a little harder because of unexpected obstacles you’ve encountered.

The rewards of collaboration mean you can accomplish so much more — complex, far-reaching and impactful projects not achievable by an individual. It’s the rare person who can pull a sword from a stone all on his or her own. 

If you think about it, collaboration itself is a tool that can be likened to a mighty double-edged sword. One edge of the sword is built of trust and the other edge, responsibility. It’s only with the hilt of strong communication that you’re able to make that sword sing for the force of good.

Originally written for and published in the December 10 issue of the free weekly Beyond the Nest newsletter.

An Electronic Symphony of Mischief

Have you ever had one of those days where you feel as if every piece of technology you pick up is out to sabotage you? There’s a reason for that.

Our gadgets communicate with each right under our noses, and we’re not even aware of it. They act up as self-protection, just to make sure we don’t get too cocky or become too efficient.  

I’m convinced that, like in Peter Pan, whenever someone says, “I don’t believe in fairies” and a fairy falls down dead, whenever someone says, “I’m going off the grid,” electronics everywhere  malfunction in chain reaction just to remind us we really can’t do that, even if we might like to.

Don’t believe me? Do you really believe Siri and Google Home are there only to do your bidding. I’m sorry, but any device that can find the directions to wherever I want to go, when I can’t, is highly suspect.

How else could you explain the Zoom meeting that suddenly decides to drop audio or prevent someone from joining? Or your cell phone that suddenly cuts off the call in the middle of an important interview? Or your website that crashes for no apparent reason? And how about the navigation device that keeps sending you in circles?

If this happened over a month, or even a few weeks, you wouldn’t think much of it. But when these things coincide over the course of one day, I have to chalk it up to a conspiracy going on within the artificial intelligence community.

And I know darn well there’s some listening device on telephone lines.  How else do you explain talking to your doctor about a handy little kit that will take the place of having a colonoscopy for the first and only time, then having an ad for said kit appear when you go online 2.5 minutes later?

We think we’re in control, but we’re really just Mickey Mouse in a Sorcerer’s pointy hat, conducting a symphony of mischief that we started when we invented the first electric light bulb.

Do I sound like a conspiracy theorist? I have a theory on that too: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

P.S. Just kidding…Sort of.

P.P.S. My computer just added that line, all on its own.

Originally published in the April 22, 2021 issue of Beyond the Nest’s Free Weekly Newsletter of Arts, Culture and Recreation for Rochester, NY

The Spirit of Independence

On July 3, 1776, John Adams shared the paragraph below in a letter to his beloved wife Abigail. His words refer to a document he and fellow members of the Continental Congress were in the process of authoring that would have a ripple effect throughout history. I’m sure when the members signed it, they must have done so with a sense of exultation, as well as a touch of trepidation, knowing their actions would embroil them in further conflict.

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

The action of signing that document was a linchpin in the American Revolutionary War between the U.S. and Britain, yet here our two countries are, almost 250 years later, allies through thick and thin. And we Americans celebrate our independence, not on July 2 as John Adams imagined, but on July 4, when the document is actually dated.

But John Adams had one thing completely right: the spirit with which Americans celebrate Independence Day! So as you go about your day, enjoying parades and fireworks, barbecues with family and friends, and/or (hopefully) relishing a day of R and R,  take a moment of pride in our ancestors for their foresight, courage and spirit of Independence that led them to lay claim to independence on this day!

Wishing you all a happy and safe Independence Day!

Originally published in the July 4, 2019 issue of Beyond the Nest’s free weekly newsletter.

Food Ingenuity

Have you ever thought about the ingenuity behind food? We often take food for granted, but in thinking back thousands of years to the beginnings of some of the things we eat now, I often wonder, “Who in heavens would ever have thought to eat that?”

Take lobster, for example.

When I was in my 20s, the parents of one of my friends told me they’d known singer/actor Burl Ives (the voice of Narrator Sam the Snowman in Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer) when he was still an unknown beachcomber.

“He lived in a little shack on the beach and ate lobster, long before anyone else did,” they laughed.

Burl Ives…a culinary innovator?  I remember this story well because, from the first time I ate it, lobster became one of my favorite foods,…seldom eaten, always relished.

But really, who would have looked at this spikey little critter and thought, “Why that looks like a tasty little morsel! I think I shall have that for dinner”?

Oh, I can understand how fruits, veggies, nuts and berries became part of our diets. You just wander around popping them in your mouth (and hoping none are poisonous). But I truly marvel at how far from source we’ve taken some other foods.

Think about bread. Who was the first to look at those waving fronds of wheat and think, “I think I’ll collect those, pound them into something I’ll call…flour! Yes, that’s a good word! Flour! Then I’ll try mixing it with a little liquid or something and plop it on the fire to see what happens!”

Or, who discovered that putting little grains of fungus (a.k.a. yeast) into said mixture of those pounded wheat fronds makes it rise to become what we know as bread? Or that boiling those fronds in liquid then adding grains of dried cereal (a.k.a. malt), a little of said same fungus and letting it sit undisturbed for a while ferments to become beer?

Thank goodness no one’s relying on me to invent food. It If it were up to me, we’d probably all still be sucking on wheat fronds…and not eating lobster.

Originally published in the March 25, 2021 issue of Beyond the Nest’s free weekly newsletter of arts, culture and activities for the Greater Rochester region.

The Space in Between

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the space in between.

Not about the space in between objects, or locations on a map, but the space in between life events…changing employment or homes, changing marital status,  leaving high school for college, or college for career, leaving employment for retirement….  In addition to those life choices, there are also life events — sometimes joyous, sometimes grief-bearing  —  over which we have no say.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because I am moving from one part-time, long-term position at a mission-driven non-profit to a full-time position at another such organization. As much as I’m looking forward to the new position, I’ve been surprised at the maelstrom of emotions I’ve felt at leaving.

The image that has come to mind is of the artist on the high flying trapeze.

There is great comfort in standing securely on the platform, getting ready to take off. But once you’re hurtling through time and space, once you release your grip on one bar in the expectation of being caught by another, that transitory period before you land safely on the next platform produces a sense of high anxiety.

Imagine for a moment simply being able to enjoy the freedom and exhilaration of flying through the air with the wind streaming through our hair. But most of us don’t do that. We fret and grow anxious. We chastise ourselves for not being braver or more intrepid. We fear the insecurity of having lost control, if even momentarily.

I daresay, we all have our high flying trapeze moments. The thing we must trust is that everything we’ve done up to now has prepared us to launch safely though that space in between, and to land securely on the next platform, wherever that may be.

Editorial published in the April 1 issue of Beyond the Nest’s FREE weekly newsletter of Arts, Culture and Recreation.

Running Away from One Too Many…

Have you ever felt like running away from home? I have. Just this past weekend, by chance.

I guess I attribute it to one too many dried-on coffee cup rings staring up from the counter, one too many empty toilet paper rolls not replaced by the person who finished it, one too many loads of laundry, one too many … you get the drift.

As I sat in the parking lot on one too many trips to the supermarket, realizing this mood was a momentary malaise that many experience (especially during Rochester winters) but nonetheless, contemplating where I might go if I had an escape adventure, I thought about the time I ran away as a child.

On that particular day, when I was about seven, I’d gotten yelled at one too many times. I packed up  a P, B & J sandwich, put a few dog biscuits in a bag, grabbed a jacket in case it got cold overnight, my little red cart, our hound dog Spunky, and headed out into the fields. I didn’t go far…just to the top of the hill where there was a plank-covered well, with a leafless, scrawny tree on which a red wing black bird sat, screaming conk-la-reeeee. I sat there in the spongy mid-day heat, under the yawning gray sky, my arm wrapped around Spunky for comfort, to contemplate my actions while staring at our house in the distance. I realized my family might not miss me until dinner, which was hours away. I could be in the next county by then. That wasn’t really what I wanted. What I wanted was to know I was important enough to be missed. Really, I just wanted to be appreciated.

In the end, Spunky and I returned home. I don’t think anyone ever even knew I’d run away.

The difference between then and now is that, as adults, we have tools — yes, to run away — but also to make the changes to stay. We can speak up when we feel overwhelmed and underappreciated. We have the power to infuse fun in our lives when we feel yawning grayness creep in.

We just have to remember to call on those powers and use them… and to remember that our current situation is only temporary.

Published in the February 27 issue of Beyond the Nest’s free weekly newsletter.