Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dinner and a Movie, 1977

You walked up the stairs with your dad and stood in the hallway. My grandmother’s chihuahua terrified you. You decided to call him Pringles instead of Gringo. “Pringles, despite the name change, still growled at you and tore at the cuffs of your corduroy pants. You clung to your dad. My grandparents and great-grandmother stood around us, seeing my mom and your dad off on this “first date with the kids.” Curiosity shone in our eyes, but after a brief glance, we stared at the floor with all the attention being focused on our introduction 

We sat quietly on the blue bench seat of my mom’s white Dodge Dart. Car windows still had fins to open and stick your hand out to be pushed by the wind. Back in those days, you could crawl up over the back seat and lay in that flat space under the window, breathing on the glass and drawing with the tip of your finger. The music of the flower children played on the radio.  

At the Chinese restaurant, you only ate bread rolls and refused to touch the fried rice or the pork tinged with bright pink dye. The first spark of mischief ignited when we slid under the table together because the adults were taking so damn long with all their flirting and talking. We had no idea the adventure ahead would change our lives.  

I was seven and you were six. I loved Doctor Who and Star Trek. I wanted to design space ships that could travel across the galaxy. When words in that yellow font scrolled up the movie screen against the background of space, I sat right up. What followed was that epic battle scene with imperial ships gunning down the rebels. Then came the lady in white with the weird hair-do, like she wore donuts on each side of her head. She didn’t collapse like the damsels we knew. She watched as her homeworld was destroyed, and resolved to fight the empire.  

She was funny and stood up to anyone. I loved Uhura, but they rarely seemed to let her off the ship. I had no doubt she’d roll up her sleeves and fight, too, but with Leia, we saw it. She was kick-ass and smart in the way I wanted to be kick-ass and smart. By the time the movie was over, we begged to see it again. Immediately.  

 On the way home, we were not quiet. The back seat of the Dodge Dart became the Millennium Falcon, and we were the heroes. As future step-siblings, the foundation for our friendship was laid out. From then on, you encouraged me to the leading heroine in D&D and LARP games. In the years that followed, we sought out others like Uhura and Leia—you, the burgeoning artist, drew all of them, and I started writing the stories for our own worlds that were populated by women who could be admired for their courage, wit, and brillianceNo weeping or swooning allowed.  

In June of 1994, you told me to watch The Crow. I told you I don’t watch stupid love stories. A month later you were gone, struck down on a sidewalk and killed by an irresponsible asshole who had no business driving. Your best friend gave me a VHS copy of The Crow. It was a bittersweet way to show me how wrong I was. The film was amazing, and all the more poignant knowing Brandon Lee was gone, too.  

Our relationship was bookended by films that changed my life, and you were an integral part of each. You fed my Star Wars dolls to the perpetually barking “Pringles” and I laughed. (Though now when I see how much those dolls are worth, their indignant demise as chew toys is no longer funny.) How many hours did we spend riding our bicycles to go climb trees, or hang out in the colonial-era graveyard across the street, and reach out to our childhood muses?  

We had no idea the actress playing Leia was being bullied about her weight, or the other pressures and struggles she coped with over the years. She was more of a heroine in real life than we knew. Like you, Carrie Fisher left us far too soon. The memory of that first date shall remain with me forever, and it gives me solace to know it was a starting point for so many stories that came to be

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Losing 20 Hours a Week

The realization of how much lost time factors into my week came as a bitter revelation. It’s an inflection point that made me evaluate everything: my career, the location of my job, the job itself, trying to balance writing and publishing novels, maintaining blogs, managing a household, and somewhere in there, find time for family and friends. Since I moved a bit further away from downtown Boston in 2015, my commute has increased considerably. If things are going well with the MBTA, which isn’t often, my commute is 15 hours a week. It’s usually closer to 20. One horrendous night when the OrangeLine was on fire and the Red Line was experiencing severe delays, and every bus and Uber driver was overloaded, it took nearly 4 hours to get home, making for a total of 6 hours of commuting that day. The subway stop closest to home is three miles away, and the bus that takes me there runs sporadically after 7 p.m. Walking is a dicey idea in this not-so-pedestrian-friendly town.

We can consider ourselves fortunate that smartphone give us the ability to do many things while standing around and waiting for the next packed bus to pass us by without stopping. But do I really want to look back at the age of 70, no doubt with chronic neck problems, and wonder why I chose to spend my time like I did, hunched over my phone in an angry crowd, or can I make changes now to shift the latter half of my career into a more positive direction?

Progressive-minded companies understand this. Remote working and flex time are becoming more common. There’s an amazing array of technology out there that makes this easy. So why are so many others reluctant to catch on? Why are optics favored over productivity? Does it really matter if a desk jockey stuck in a grubby cube dyes their hair purple? Individuality shouldn’t be crushed by inane conformity. Numerous studies have shown the negative effects of open office spaces. More lost time, increased stress, and feeling like you’re in a micromanager’s peeping paradise serves no one well. Some executives cite “that one bad apple” who ruined the trust for everyone else, but is that the real story, or do some people simply have a hard time transitioning from a traditional mindset?

With today’s sky-high rents in places like downtown Boston, you’d think a key goal would be to reduce overhead costs. A smaller space with desk sharing would be far more economical, and time can be set aside for meetings requiring larger groups. People feeling like their time is valued and who are able to get more done are more likely to stick around.

A number of things have delayed my fourth novel: moving and renovations, family issues, transforming my career from editor to digital strategist by earning two certificates and studying relentlessly. It’s wonderful to find my calling, albeit at midlife, but it’s also given me time to reflect on what values I attach to my identity and what I need to do to nurture my career. It’s been an epiphany to conclude they’re not mutually exclusive. Yes, I need to pay my mortgage, but is sacrificing quality of life necessary? An essential aspect of digital strategy is digital transformation—the online world is our world, and everything is evolving. Businesses that are slow to adapt risk falling into obscurity as disruptors and innovators from all industries create replacements for what refuses to change.

We’ve crossed the threshold of a new era. It’s exciting and anxiety-inducing. What happens if our robot overlords push us into pod hives to serve as living batteries for the Matrix? Self-driving cars are on the horizon. Smart homes are going to do our shopping for us. Data analytics/business intelligence is a massive opportunity for growth. Schools must be better at preparing students for the future. In order to do that, new leaders have to guide the process. Old-school attitudes about education and employment must transform for us to remain in the game in terms of innovation in all areas of life. While there has been good reason to be really stressed out and angry lately, the badly bruised optimist within me believes there’s still hope. Let the creative spirit flourish, allow for a progressive work environment, and let’s all enjoy more time to pursue the ideas that can make the world a better place.