Love is in the air…

And the smell is in the house. As early in the season as it may seem for the northern hemisphere, February tends to be the awakening for many of the woodland creatures around our abode. While our home isn’t by any means in the wilderness, the temperate rainforest that is Tennessee means that the woods and forests are never far from any area that isn’t paved over or hosed down with herbicide. For the most part, it just makes for a nice environment for most creatures, including the humans.

As it happens, our neighborhood is one of the older subdivisions built in this East Tennessee suburban area. It’s located close enough to the downtown for events and supplies to be readily accessed, but it’s far enough outside the city limits to give us a break from double taxes (city and county) and provide a little less asphalt. We dig it… mostly.

So, sometime in the wee hours (this is a precise time measurement often invoked to read “middle of the damned night”), I was dragged from sleep. As it happens, I was actually dreaming that a skunk had made the unusual decision to make their home in my garage. In the dream, I was making my way from garage into the house, and the critter decided that the garage was nice, but our laundry room suited better. The resident feline rulers were not so pleased with a new roommate and thus confronted (still dreaming here). The distress of the whole situation and expected outcomes dragged me from my somnolent state into full wakefulness to find… SKUNK!!!

This was not so much an actual furry creature, but it’s presence was enough to make the eyes water (had they not been semi crusted with sleep still). I was also confronted with a husband that seemed more grumpy than might be warranted in the middle of the pre-dawn. He was standing by the bed and generally grumbling. At this point, I believe that I may have made some attempt to communicate with a mumbled “uh… skunk.” To which, the grumpy old man standing next to the bed informed me that there were “teenager skunks” pornographically romping in the yard out front. Apparently, he felt this to be the primary source of the Eau de Pepe, and he pulled a classic “You kinky kids get off my lawn!” I don’t think they took well to the interruption, and certainly it did not decrease or resolve the aroma issue.

In general, I don’t have issues with skunks in the wild. They eat yellow jacket grubs and other pests. They are cute, and for the most part, they are harmless if unmolested. The one weapon for which they are famous is a Barney Fife response (only one bullet), and it takes a while for them to recharge. However… boy howdy if they decide to actually use it.

For the most part, we live and let live, but the Spring (albeit extremely early to call it so) always brings about the season of LOVE for our little black and white friends. So, I’ll resolve myself to a slight headache for the time being and hopefully none of them will actually elect to make my garage their love nest.

Physical Fit: The Long Road Back…

So, I haven’t really posted in a while. A lot has been going on, to be quite frank. Work and life… and work… I have just let time get away from me.

I observed, when going to my gym one morning, that someone had written a quote on the white board that they have hanging on the wall for encouraging words and announcements. It said, “Your body can do anything. It’s your mind you need to convince.” It took me some time to figure out to whom we could attribute this little gem, but it turns out it was a modified version of “The good Lord gave you a body that can stand most anything. It’s your mind you have to convince,” which apparently Vincent Lombardi said.

Ignoring my perpetual nerdiness and need to find source references for words that are not coming from my own brain, I had to think about the adage for a while. I ruminated about it, in fact. I appreciated the underlying message. We’re often our own worst enemies when it comes to change or doing things for our betterment. I find that I can argue myself out of chores or things that I really need to be doing. If I could debate so well in a public forum, I could run for office. However, that doesn’t mean it is a good trait. And it isn’t just me… I know this. I have friends, family, and patients. All of them will know that there are steps that they need to take in order to manifest the changes that they badly wish to have in their lives (better health, more life satisfaction, financial stability, etc.), but without fail, when it comes to those initial, sometimes painful, first steps… I hear a bunch of, “yeah… but…” So, I get it. Get your mind on board with the project, and the rest will follow, right?

And that brings me to the second side of my ruminations. I’m here to tell you that my mind has been “on board” with getting back to my pre-surgical state of activity and fitness. I was chomping at the bit, as they say. I couldn’t wait for my doctor to give me the “all clear” to get back into my routine. The body had some alternative points to make about it, though.

In truth, I fully expected to be back at ground zero, so to speak. I had been largely inactive (unless you count my regular 250 step laps around the downstairs living areas and my adventures in showering those first couple of weeks) for nearly two months. Given my age has severely depressed the former bounce back ability I once had, I truly did feel that I was likely to be starting back at the beginning. That, I am happy to say, was not the case. My first day back at running, well elliptical-ing went well better than I had expected (maybe those laps around the kitchen island were useful after all). I was slower, and the “distance” was less, but I was able to go for my full time without feeling too bad. I was cautiously optimistic. I felt like maybe this whole climb back to the top of my game might not be as much of a slog as I feared.

But then… reality reared it’s ugly head. “You were gutted like a fish. You’re core muscles torn asunder. What the @#$% did you expect?!?” I tried to lift some weights (once cleared to do so by my surgeon). I’d been curling roughly 25-30 pounds prior to my illness. I was benching 125-150. I knew I was not going to be jumping right into my pre-surgery routine, but I was truly unprepared for what my body decided was its limit. I could barely do 10 pound dumb bells. That’s barely a gallon of milk, for heaven’s sake! I know that is is completely normal. Start slow. Work your way back. But I couldn’t manage more than two sets that first day. It wasn’t my mind. My arms literally would not move those weights hanging off the ends of them. I could barely keep my fingers clasped around them and avoid dropping them heavily to the floor. (Who knows, if I had dropped them, I likely wouldn’t have been able to pick them back up.)

Back to our friend, Vince and his helpful tips about mind over matter. The key word that is in Vince’s words that was left out of the encouraging quote by the anonymous contributor at my gym would be “most”. Vince didn’t say “anything” or “all things”, he suggested some natural limitations. There are some things that the body cannot do. Granted, these are sometimes things that we can train the body to do over time, but I had to be patient and willing to let my body heal. I had to wait for my upper body muscles to build back the strength. I couldn’t rush it. I couldn’t push it (found out the hard way what happens when I do). I had to exercise some patience (probably my biggest challenge weakest attribute) and trust that with time, I can improve my performance again. Maybe I’ll even surpass my previous summit. It just may take a bit longer than I’d hoped…

Physical Fit: The impatient patient

It has been said that doctors, nurses… well almost any healthcare professional make the worst patients. I can probably, and shamefacedly, admit to being precisely that. I am no exception. I can say that being on the other side of the desk, treatment, etc. just does not suit my own proclivities.

I wonder sometimes if it is just part and partial of the nature and personality of an individual choosing the healthcare career path, or if it is something that happens because we’ve come to know too much, or perhaps, more likely still, we prefer to be in control of the situation than being forced to let others control the situation for us. Yes, we are as a species slightly control-freakish.

Without going into the the gory details, I recently was forced to undergo major surgery. I’ve been lucky in my life to have not been subjected to the skills of surgeons (excepting maxilofacial and oral). I still have tonsils and appendix. Let me tell you now, it is not something lightly approached to have a “right gutting” as my spouse has quaintly put it. Even when it is for the purpose of correcting a more serious issue (as in my case), which ultimately will result in improved overall health (I hope), it can be way more of an impact to the body and life than you might otherwise expect given all that is said about modern medical procedures. It probably didn’t help matters that I am blessed with some rather inconvenient allergies to most pain relieving medications. This resulted in me being a challenge for anesthetists and nurses to find a way to manage my rather excruciating post-op discomfort… (remember the “right gutting?”). That pretty much is all I will say about the adventure of the hospital and my rather stubborn desire to escape back to my cave where, like a wounded animal, I felt I could lick my wounds and snap back to being almost human.

And about that “snapping back” thing… This is where my patience at being a patient has been sorely … ha! (see what I did there)… tested. As those of you who have followed my journeys and ramblings these few years may have noted, I have become a rather active gal. Part of this was due to my increasing dismay and the middle-aged spread that had overtaken my body in a way which displeased me greatly. At least, that was probably the main instigator of the fit that I pitched, but over time, the running and lifting things had also become a comfort and source of stress relief (no, I sincerely never actually thought those words would come from my head).

Suddenly… like literally in the course of about 90 minutes in an operating theater, I went from active to forced inactivity projected for 6 to 8 weeks. Of course, I had this delusion that I would not require that much time. I mean, for real, I went in with pretty good physical condition… well, as far as eating right and exercise, always excepting the actual source of the problem which required the surgery. Somewhere in my head still resides this person who thinks she is still 20, or maybe even 16 and can just bounce back from any injury.

And boy howdy, did I receive some strong-talk info to the contrary from my poor beleaguered body so recently traumatized (though therapeutically). For a while, the whole pain thing made inactivity tolerable because moving was not tolerable (neither was many bodily functions over which there is relatively little control… but I digress). Finding out that your core muscles are engaged or used for things you probably never consciously thought about was not fun: Walking upright, standing up, lowering oneself to a seat, or even trying to stay upright in a chair. Who knew? Sneezing, coughing, even laughing would cause less that pleasant reminders that I had an abdominal injury. Point of fact… it hurt. A lot.

However, time does heal some wounds… at least, it has for the physical ones I sustained. I started walking about more and doing little things for myself… showering and getting dressed, for instance. So, while the pain became less and less apparent, the fatigue from recovery and blood loss still kept me from my normal existence. Impatience raised its ugly head every time while I chastised myself with “Seriously, you used to run 5 miles, but you need a nap from putting on pants?!?” All the while, my friends and family were providing the background singers to my body with “Take it easy… you know you just had surgery, right?”

Did I mention I’m inpatient, and not a good patient? I tried to push myself, to which my body stood its formal and rather insistent objections by placing my ass firmly on the couch for a full day to recover from that little effort.

But I’m getting there. Truly. It’s been almost 5 weeks. I’m still not allowed to run, lift, or sing (yes, sing… can’t strain the abdominal muscles). Hopefully soon. Not being able to work out or run has driven me, ever so slightly bats. I’ve watched almost every documentary available on Amazon Prime, and I’m really quite ready to be off my sedentary butt and getting back to it, but I must wait… So, for now, I will find other ways of discharging my stress, and I remain somewhat impatient as a patient.

Faerie Tales

And a fairy song. Arthur Rackham (1908).

Many tales of olden days
Regale of the good folk with tricks to play
Some are good and wish no ill
Some give lessons as a bitter pill
The fae abroad oft at night
They invite us to dance in the flickering light
The daoine sidhe living within the mound
The bean sidhe wail one going to ground
The good folk are said to exist side by side
With humans though from our eyes they hide
They’re said to be capricious
Sometimes giving boon, sometimes bane
And for those who forget to honor them
They can be quite a pain
To the modern mind the fae are from time long past
Superstition has no place in this world moving so fast
But I think it might be wise, just in case
To set out bread and honey in the faeries’ space.

Many cultures have tales of supernatural beings that can be beneficial or malicious. The old tales are often a way to explain natural phenomena or sometimes explanations of the vagaries of human behavior. Sometimes the old stories are morality tales to encourage people to behave themselves… No matter, the yarns told round fires or in flickering candlelight are good for a thrill up the spine. Personally, I love a good spooky tale that gives a shiver. If you didn’t have the opportunity in your own experience to hear these stories from an elder, look some up. In honor of St. Paddy’s, you might check your online streaming services (Celtic Monsters on Amazon Prime is a good one) or audiobooks for a collection of the old folk tales told or read in the accents where they originated. There are some wonderful traditionals out there to get into the spirit of the fae.

The New Cheese: Change

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.’ The phrase means literally that the more things change, the more it’s the same thing. I don’t know if that is actually true. Change can hit in a number of different ways. Sometimes those ways are good. They mean progress, improvement, innovation, and avoidance of stagnation. However, sometimes those changes don’t feel so good. They feel uncertain, destabilizing, and confusing. The unknown and the new are sometimes scary. While JB expressed his experience as nothing ever being truly new, and that eventually it all amounts to the same thing, I think the sentiment and underlying meaning is that change is more a part of constancy that is just life. The one thing that seems omnipresent in the world is change, every day something new or different. Sometimes things move so fast, it’s hard to keep up.

Why am I talking about change? Well, it is a new year. It is a time when a good number of people consider changes in their own lives. It is a time to consider the things that may have become stagnant or even unhealthy that could use a refresh, a new habit, improvement to what we choose to do and how we live our lives… But that’s not the only reason that I’m thinking and writing about change. Not really.

In the past few years, I have, myself, experienced a lot of changes. I have watched people I care about face other changes. Not all of them were good. In fact, many of them were distinctly unpleasant. There were significant losses. There were obstacles and health issues and heartbreaks. I have watched those I love battle crippling despair and agonizing decisions. It hurts.

But there have been other changes as well. There have been changes born of growth. There have been graduations, weddings, births, new opportunities, and new relationships. There have been moves and new places. There have been new ideas and plans.

I’m distracting myself again. I do that. The reason this particular post is in TNC is because I want to talk about change in the workplace. You had to know that it was eventually going to wind around to job, right? In the past year, my team has dealt with drastic and overwhelming changes. There have been team reorganizations, a complete program change, manager changes, and then a documentation platform change… and that was within less than six months! And they rolled with it. They handled it better than any team with whom I’ve previously worked. I could not be prouder to be a part of them.

And now… in the new year, they were hit with change again. Another reorganization resulted in almost my entire team shifting to a different manager and another group being assigned to me. I’ll be honest, it hit me pretty hard. I am a bit of a “mama bear” when it comes to my direct reports, and I mourned that loss, hard. It helped that the manager to whom they were given is one of the best people and best leaders I know, but it still shook me up. I can only imagine what my new team is experiencing, but I suspect that there may be a good deal of anxiety and trepidation as we all have to learn about each other and develop these new relationships after years of understanding the in’s and out’s of a different leader and leadership style. I know it came as a shock for most. Maybe some are excited about the change, but I expect a lot more are worried about how the “new boss” will be.

It took me quite a while to shift my own mood and thoughts and acceptance. But I know that we are all still working for the same team and the same people and serving the same deserving population that are given into our charge each day. Who knows, now that I’m not “boss lady” to some of my former direct reports, there may be friendships and colleague relationships to further nourish and bloom in a different way.

Change is hard. Sometimes it feels bad initially, but hopefully it can push us, motivate us, and help us keep moving in a positive direction to be better and grow more. I think it is really about perspective. Acknowledge the discomfort, but don’t get stuck in it. Look for the opportunity and let the change move rather than control. So, with that, I’m going to go back to our friend JB for another quote that I like better…

Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.’

Longest Night

On chill wind a wild hunt sounds
Through skeletal, bare branches ringing around
Tendrils of smoke from nied-fire rise
Wishes of true hearts rise to the skies
As Sunna sleeps for one longest night
To rise with the dawn and bring back the light
The moon glows brightly, breaking the heavy dark
Celestial dancers send showers and sparks
And stories of old draw the young and old here
To sit round the fire sharing frith and good cheer

Glad Yuletide to All!

The New Cheese: Time Off

I believe I’ve actually addressed this issue previously, but for the life of me, I cannot recall. I want to discuss for a brief span the concept of time off. 

When we talk about time off, typically we are talking about time away from the workplace. And by workplace, that means paid for employment from an external source (differentiating between caregivers and parents who work hard, but are not necessarily reimbursed by an external agent in monetary form). There are different sorts of time away from work. These can be both paid or unpaid. For some there is differentiation between vacation and sick leave, but many employers have gone to a straight paid-time-off (PTO) system where a set amount of days or hours are given dependent upon pay grade and time in grade, and those hours/days can be used for whatever purpose needed. There are a bunch of other statutes and intricacies of labor law, such as short term disability and family medical leave act (FMLA) that govern other types of issues related to time away. Different states and countries have laws and regulations that govern these workforce and labor concerns.  For the current discussion, we will not be including paid holidays, bereavement, or mandatory closures (weather, weekends, drill/military, emergencies, disaster, etc.). 

Let’s delve a bit into history. There are some who would say that things like employee paid time off, paid holidays, sick leave, etc. are a modern invention in response to concerns for workers rights and health and unions. Turns out, probably not. It seems that there is archeological evidence to show that as far back as 1500 BCE the pharaohs of Egypt provided disability or sick leave for tomb craftsmen and workers while they received state sponsored health care to get them back on their feet (ancient workman’s comp claim… who knew?!?). So, it seems that there has been an understanding for a long time that it is cheaper to take care of trained workforce and keep them healthy than to deal with constant turnover and training new replacements every time you break one. 

There are, I know, a good deal more erudite folks on the matter of labor laws than I am with my Google searches and perusal of HR Direct mandatory policy and legal documents. However, I’ve had to develop some significant upgrades to my knowledge for my own occupations and assisting both my own employees and patients to navigate their benefits and job protection. 

As I stated earlier, some organizations, states, or countries have differences between sick time and vacation. Sick leave would be paid time for the purposes of attending to health. What are the benefits? Well, you don’t have people coming into the office and bringing plague to coworkers, patients, or customers. That’s a perk. Burnout is a thing, let me tell you. Employees who do not attend mental health and revitalization are less likely to provide quality service to customers or patients. Vacation time would be paid time that can be used for anything… namely, though, vacation, right? Time to do something for leisure. Some places give the paid time off as a lump at a designated time of the year (often January 1). Others set up accrual systems so that paid time is gained through out the year in increments (often based on time in service and rank). There are still a number of organizations that have unpaid time off, and typically to have paid time of any sort, you have to be a full time employee (so, somewhere between 35-37 hours per week minimal to qualify). Many places can get by not having PTO benefit by not having full time employees. If a worker is out, they just don’t get paid. Many hospitality roles do not have a paid time off benefit. This also applies to the self-employed and entrepreneurs out there. Independent contractors, business owners, free-lancers, etc… If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. That’s just the way it goes. However, that being said, the wise and wiley among the self-employed also build this into their business plans and taxes and all that jazz… but I digress.

What about those other categories I mentioned? The short-term-disability (STD, gotta love that, but seriously that is how it is frequently listed in the policy manuals… threw me a couple of times when reading those) and the FMLA. What are those about? Well, these are two very different things. The FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) has different pieces to the puzzle. This law protects those that qualify from losing their jobs if they are absent due to their own illness or due to mandatory care-taking duties for children, family, partner, etc. FMLA can also apply to maternity or paternity leave with some organizations who do not have such built in separately. FMLA can be all of a single block of prescribed length of time or it can be “intermittent.” We see a lot of the intermittent type with folks who may have other caretaker assistance, but will need to take time (sometimes without warning) to deal with issues related to the care of a loved one. The important part to take note of here is that FMLA does not supply income. It literally just protects the employee from getting canned due to work absence. Which brings me to the STD bit… Short term disability is the income piece. While FMLA is actually a reference to labor law and has legally regulated measure through state and federal government, STD is actually not a requirement or mandated benefit. Employers do not have to offer this. It is something that can be offered like healthcare benefits or life insurance. Sometimes, you will see it as a deduction from pay receipts. STD must also be approved. This usually requires some evidence supplied by an attending provider. If the evidence supplied through medical documentation is insufficient based on the criteria set by the governing agency of the claim, the STD will be denied, and this means that there may be no income. 

This is all a bunch of super-complicated intricately interwoven aspects of being off from a paid employment position. I am exceedingly happy to know that there are a bunch of people who have more extensive knowledge and “back-of-the-hand” understanding of these elements upon whom I can rely to help me navigate for myself, my own staff, or my patients. However, I’ve developed in the past decade or so probably enough knowledge and understanding to be exceedingly dangerous… So, here goes with an example:

Employee A (we’ll call him Bob) wants to go on a vacation with his family this summer. He earns a set amount of hours paid time off every pay period. At the first of the year, he starts banking those hours (we’ll assume he had no rollover hours from the previous year… because that just complicates things for our example). Bob wants to take the week, and his normal pay week is 40 hours. Bob earns 6 hours of PTO per pay period. He needs to work 7 pay periods to have the 40 hours. Now, some employers will allow staff to borrow against future PTO if the employee is in good standing. Again… we’ll not delve to avoid complication. The problem for Bob is that any unplanned time off needs to either dip into his PTO or potentially be unpaid if he wants to be paid for that week at Disney with the family.

Let’s say that poor Bob has an unexpected injury that resulted in a hospital stay or prolonged absence from work. Bob’s manager (or Bob himself) would contact HR to set up FMLA. The first part of that is to safeguard Bob’s job position so that he is not laid off or terminated during this recovery time. However, this does not actually solve any issues with Bob’s income. Depending on policy, Bob may be required to utilize any PTO accrued before application for STD or being eligible for same. However, some employers may allow STD to be applied without exhausting the PTO. This would, of course, be better for Bob and his family (Disney looming, remember). Depending on the medical details and information provided by Bob’s attending physicians, Bob may not meet criteria to be approved for STD. Bob then has a choice (again, depending on the policy of the organization) to take unpaid leave or exhaust his PTO. 

Now Bob’s buddy (we’ll call him Carl… I borrowed these guys from a friend, don’t judge) has a situation with a family member which requires his close attention and a good many hours of his time to arrange and manage care. Carl has obtained caregiver support through the family member’s own healthcare benefits, but that doesn’t pay him for his time. He is still often required to take the family member to appointments and be present as, perhaps, medical power of attorney. And so, Carl faces some issues. He, too, would like to have some vacation/leisure time with his family, but the frequent demands on his hours of work do not technically fall into the STD criteria. Carl applied for and was granted intermittent FMLA which allows him to take frequent absence from work without anxiety about losing his position. However, he doesn’t get paid for that time. So, Carl has to pick and choose his use of PTO accrued (which may not allow much for a planned vacay with the family) or take the time away as unpaid to save the PTO for the planned use later in the year. Depending on Carl’s employer, he may not have a choice and be forced to exhaust his PTO before taking time as unpaid. The point being, Carl will likely need to consult his own HR guru at his place of employment for guidance. 

As you can see/read/whatever, there are intricacies and specifics, and all of them are dependent upon the policy of the employer and what benefits are actually provided by the organization. There are, unfortunately, employers who are a bit dodgy and will try to get out of paying the time off benefits. However, there are a good many studies showing that the benefit to the employee is often a benefit to the company in the long term. 

And… before I wind this particular piece up, let’s talk about the new challenges of modern time away. I’ve often written about the challenges and issues with the modern technological conveniences upon the work-life balance. While technological improvements and evolutions have provided opportunity to shorten commutes to literally a few feet down the hall, it makes it a bit too convenient to access job when allegedly being away from job. It has created some interesting concerns and solutions. For instance, I have a horrible habit of calling into meetings or checking email when I am supposed to be on vacation. Part of this is my own work-life boundary issues, but also it is stress due to expected work overload when I return. Because of the fast pace of corporate environment and (let’s be honest) a little lack of boundaries on the part of the organization, emails, phone calls, projects, and such do not get put on pause while any given employee is absent. That train just keeps on rolling, and there is an anxiety that develops about being pushed out or possibly made superfluous by merely taking time off. It’s probably an unrealistic fear, but with the current job market, anxiety is there. The other part of that work-life issue is coming back to over 1000 emails and having to spend a week or more just trying to figure out what happened while you were out. I often tell peers and employees, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I’m trying to get better about staying away and delegating, but old habits die hard. And did I mention the anxiety?

Which brings up another, slightly trickier issue. What about those legal categories? Not the planned vacations or unplanned brief sick leave, but what about the STD or FMLA? These present some significant issues for telecommuter culture. With normal workplace culture, people on STD or FMLA simply do not come to work. They aren’t working because they are not there. For a telecommuter who can work from home and has access to work through technology, how does that work?!? So, that has presented some interesting issues. It might not seem like a big deal, but legally it is. If a person is on FMLA or STD but is also working? Yeah, that develops into ugly words like fraud or abuse. Anyhow, it’s difficult to police or monitor work and lack thereof when the person doesn’t actually come to an office and clock in, right? The solution to this in some companies is to shut off access. The literally turn off the ability for the employee to log into the workplace network. It solves the problem, but it adds that layer of complication and difficulty with the IT department and the employee when they return to work. Bottom line? They can’t just *poof* come back. There are forms and requests and logic to reprogram, oh my… 

In wrapping it all up and tying with a bunch of red tape, I think there is more positive to be said for allowing employees paid time off than not. I encourage my self-employed and independent contractor folks to program that into their own budgets and schedules. Physical and mental health is easier to protect than try to reclaim when overtaxed physical and psychological systems burn out. I’ll tell you all, as I tell all my staff, “The advice is good, even if I’m not terribly good at listening to it myself.” I’m a work in progress, what can I say?

Swing me once more around the block…

…This time take the scenic route…

It’s that time again. I recognize that a year has gone by, and perspective turns retrospective. I look around and realize that I’ve not accomplished much. 

I always approach the natal anniversary time with dread and regret. I know that is probably silly and not terribly helpful or healthy, but it’s accurate. I just don’t like my birthday. Never have. It might be something subconsciously observed (like always having flags at half-mast in honor of… being born on the day that will “live in infamy” has a tendency to do that). It might also be that my birthday has never really seemed to be about me. It’s always been about other things, other people… the fact that I was born (lo, the many years ago) was always a bit of an afterthought or at best used by others to garner attention for themselves… sometimes well-deserved. Other times… maybe not so much, but there it is. It always got lost in the midst of other rememberance or exam weeks or general holiday festivities. 

I think it may have upset a younger me at times. I was always so envious of those classmates that had summertime birthdays. There were pool parties and picnics or beach cookouts, things and events that peers and friends looked forward to in the doldrums of summer indolence. But, in truth, the envy and regret didn’t really take sufficient hold to become psychopathy or anything… (oooh, but now I have ideas for a mystery thriller with a birthday fixation… meh, it’s probably been done, and I’m getting off track). 

One year for my birthday, I was actually given a book. Beth’s Happy Day. Coincidentally, it was about a girl… with my name… who was having a “special day.” The book followed Beth around all day while she did things for other people. Eventually, at the end of her day, she goes home to find all the people (mostly adults, mind you) she had assisted throughout the day in her back yard for a party… yep, you guessed, birthday party for Beth. Not a bad story, but the message was clear about birthdays and altruism. I think it may have also highlighted the “normalcy” of having a child’s birthday filled and attended predominantly by their elders, parents, grandparents, and other adults instead of age-group peers and other children. 

And really, not so bad a message. This year, I’ve seen a number of people choose to use their birthday to rally funds for various causes, charities, etc.; which I think is a really nice way to honor someone’s “Happy Day”. 

For the past few decades, I’ve actually consciously elected to hide my birthday. I tried to focus and distract folks on other things, tests, projects, other observances. I have left town, used the time to avoid people but maybe get other things done. With social media, there is generally a reminder that prevents complete ignorance of the day (I could, of course, have turned that bit private, but I totally forgot), and that, perhaps, was not such a bad thing. It was nice to see friends and family well-wishes. With thoughts giving energy, perhaps it will add fuel to make the next trip round the sun a more productive trip. 

So, the inventory and reflection time has given me some perspective. I can honestly say that 2018 was better in many ways (for me as an individual) than the previous year. Perhaps the next trip will continue the trend. I sincerely hope that I can, at least, contribute positively to my own experience as well as that of those around me. With that said, let’s take it one more time around, Jeeves…  

In Memoriam…

Fifteen years ago… has it really been 15? The world lost a bright spirit, but I suspect he might linger and visit…

Danny Potter was a monumental person. I do not say that metaphorically. I mean it. He was, in his health, 6’4″ and weighed quite a few hundred pounds. The double-headed dragon torque that he always wore around his wrist was loose on my bicep, and I speculate I could have worn it as a collar torque. But the biggest part of Danny was the heart.

Danny never met a stranger. He was a beloved brother, uncle, son, and friend. He had an unmeasurable intellect that he fed on a constant diet of literature and history. However, he devoted his time and his care to work with those at the very opposite end of that spectrum at the Green Valley institute for intellectually disabled. And they loved him (and he them) as much as we all did.

Danny was a poet and a druidic scholar in the true sense of the word. He was the teller of stories and a great listener who absorbed information like a sponge. He remained always curious. He was a great lover of history, especially of the Appalachian and Northeast Tennessee area where he lived and grew. He was a proud member of Clan Colquhoun (no, it’s not pronounced precisely as it looks… it’s Cul-hoon). He celebrated his Scottish heritage and founded a Celtic Festival that ran for many years with displays, music, and historical reenactment. Danny did much (if not all) of the work himself, signing on vendors, displays, and musical acts. (After his passing, it took a committee to do what he did single-handedly for so long).

Danny’s house was quite literally filled with books. They filled the den from floor to ceiling all around the room. Many evenings, I sat on couch or floor (depending on the number of us visiting) talking about topics that could range from archeology to zoology and all points in between, but mostly… tales of the mystical and fantastic and stories of the hills. Danny loved this season. He saw Samhain in the old Celtic sense of a new year and a thin veil and a time of marvelous opportunity.

Danny had a way of pulling people together. He could find something beautiful or valuable in every soul he touched. Recently his nephew and I were talking about how Danny’s web continues, even 15 years later, to draw us together and remind us of the connections we share. It seems that he will always be nudging me in the shoulder to keep that web spinning and shining.

He was gone too soon. At only 50 years, the world lost his physical presence. However, Danny never expected us to grieve him. He expected us to celebrate. In 2003, Danny left this plane, the time as close to midnight October 31-November 1 as could be determined. At his memorial service, his wishes were read.  He told all of us not to grieve the body that he was ready to leave and had served it’s purpose. He reminded us that he might visit from time to time, and he asked that at this time of year, we  put out two fingers of Scotch as a rememberance…. “Remember, I have very large fingers.”

And thus, my post, these 15 years later… Every year, my husband and I place two fingers of Scotch out on the back porch before midnight on Halloween… for Danny… It is always gone in the morning.

I will always miss my friend, but I like to think that I do my best to live as he would have wanted me to do, making connections, seeing beauty in each day and each soul that enters that web that Danny continues to spin for me. I see him in the people who loved and continue to love him. I hear him remind me to look around me for that which is good and true, and to always stay curious…

In memory of Danny Potter, 1953-2003.


a beautiful vintage mirror in a dark room

A shadowy glimpse from the corner of my eye

In every reflection I pass by

I feel you lurking, following me

But there is nothing when I turn to see

Present in the dark of night

You disappear with any light

I know that you are always there

That shadowed visage, I feel your stare

I spied you just at my shoulder…

I fear you growing bolder

Behind me I beg you to stay

What are you doing when I look away?

I fear one day you’ll break free

Ignoring any sensible plea

Embracing malice with unholy glee

The monster just there, inside of me…