I Need to Get the Hint

20130617-006wFor most of my adult life I’ve been involved in the community where I was living. I’ve served on boards, I’ve volunteered for activities, I’ve offered my brain, my hands and my heart to projects. I think most people I’ve engaged with over the years would say I’ve been a positive force in those endeavors.

In the last couple of years, I have repeatedly offered my brain to an organization whose mission I really believe in. The offers are received positively, but follow up never happens. I continue to give money, speak highly of their work and encourage them from the sidelines. But, I’m beginning to question why I’m doing that.

They know their business better than I do so there’s no point in questioning why they do not believe I have anything of value to offer. The real question is why I continue to try to offer help. Would it not make more sense to devote my energy to an organization who actually wants my involvement? Of course it would.

Why do I continue to try and involve myself where I’m obviously not wanted? What is that about? At some point, I should take the hint. Maybe the time is now.

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Stories

20140915-029wI tell a lot of stories. Sometimes it’s in print, sometimes in sound, sometimes in person. But they’re all important. It is an honor to tell stories. I am blessed.

When it works the way it’s supposed to, it seems effortless. The focus is on the person and their story. But the road to that spotlight often requires wandering down many weedy paths on the way. My job is to put the effort into making it look effortless.

There’s an art to interviewing and it’s something I consider myself especially good at. However, it’s incredibly time consuming. So, depending on the story, sometimes I start with email to get some sense of the story, and then use my interview time to focus on the heart of the story. Finding the heart of the story is key.

Stories are funny things. Everyone thinks they know what a story is. In reality, when they’re close to it, few people can actually see the story. They get bogged down in details and numbers and history and things no one cares about except the people intimately involved. They’re not the story. The story is the people and how they’re affected, engaged, moved, etc. It’s my job to get beyond all of that junk and to the story. Sometimes I’m more successful than others. I confess sometimes I give up because the effort is too extreme and there are always other stories to be told.

Most of the time, even though they may not recognize their own story, people are willing to engage with you in a way that helps you tell it. But occasionally people put up roadblocks that I’ve learned are indicators they are unwilling to participate in a way that will actually result in me being able to do my job. When that happens, I know we are all just going through the motions, and there’s no point in putting tremendous effort into it. I’ll just end up bloody from beating my head against the wall.

That’s not a conclusion I come to casually. But experience is a good teacher, and more than three and a half decades of telling stories makes me aware there’s a point at which you just have to cut your losses. It always breaks my heart just a little bit because I know the world is missing out on a great story. But I can only hope someone more suited to telling it will come along and the story will get another chance.

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What Business Do You Want To Be In

20130526 048alALWhen considering business opportunities, there’s a basic question few people seem to ask themselves that affects everything in the business.

What business do you want to be in?

If you’re not clear about what business you want to be in, it’s easy to get sidetracked into associated businesses. I’m fortunate enough to do a lot of different things in my business, but with each business track, I know what business I’m in.

For example, I do social media management for authors, museums, companies, etc. Recently a friend asked me to convince her boss it was important to have a Facebook page. I politely declined, because that’s not the business I’m in.

I’m in the business of helping people who already understand why social media is important to use it. It’s a very different business. I don’t want to spend my time trying to convince people why they should be doing it with the hopes they’ll eventually hire me to do it. Why would I bother? Plentiful potential clients already exist. I’m not in the business of creating more potential clients. I’m in the business of serving the ones who are interested in using these tools.

You can argue that’s callous. It’s not. It’s just business. Convincing people is the business someone else wants to be in. When you work for yourself, all you have to sell are your time and your expertise. I don’t want to waste my time on things that are not the business I’m in.

That’s not to say I never speak about social media. I do. In fact, I love to do that. But, I don’t do it to create potential clients. I do it to serve another business I’m in – public speaking.

Being clear about what business you’re in is critical to moving forward effectively. Once you are clear, it’s easy to make decisions about what fits into your business model and what doesn’t. You’ll not waste your time on things that aren’t about the business you want to be in.

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Christmas Love and Memories

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Today was the annual Gingerbread House Decorating Day in Hutchinson, Kansas, where I live. It’s sponsored by the Downtown Development office and the Hutchinson Recreation Commission and offers ample opportunity for cuteness overload, as you might imagine.

I met this young lady today when I asked if I could take a photo of her gingerbread house her mom had put down while they were waiting to visit Santa. She came over and talked with me while Santa was finishing with the folks before her. She’s a charmer, just as you would imagine from this photo.

I am so thankful the community provides opportunities like this. We can see the excitement on her face, but imagine what it’s like to be experiencing that. I was thinking tonight that this was probably a magical day for a lot of kids. They got to decorate a gingerbread house, then see Santa. That’s a lot of fun for one day, and it was all provided free.

Memories were made today that will be with the adults these children will grow into forever. Pleasant associations of gingerbread houses and communities and families and places and traditions were formed. What a tremendous gift a community can offer to its citizens.

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Special Times

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This week I gathered with a group of friends for a wonderful holiday celebration. This group has been getting together for more than a decade, and we have shared some amazing times. At Christmas we have a meal together and the last few years it has been on beautiful Spode china.

There’s something wonderful about eating with lovely china. It reminds us we are cared about. Someone is willing to go to some trouble for us. They’ve gotten out real dishes and set them up beautifully and invited us to put our feet under their table and break bread together. That feeling will never be replicated by a restaurant. Any restaurant.

It is a true gift to be invited into someone’s home to share a meal. To be treated to a beautiful table setting, prepared with care, makes it even more spectacular. Add in amazing company and it’s hard to beat. I feel honored. This evening has been a highlight of the Christmas season for me the last few years.

Being invited to someone’s home where they have taken so much care to welcome me is rare in my world. I’m so appreciative of our hostess who goes the extra mile. It really matters to me. I’m thankful.

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Beautiful Things

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Greg and I spent a couple of days in Joplin with his mom, returning home today. We were treated to a beautiful, but brief, sunset. I snapped this while we were stopped at the rest area in Cherryvale.

Photos are wonderful at reminding us of a particular moment, but for me they’re also reminders to appreciate the loveliness around me. It’s so easy to take things like this for granted. Every day we are treated to magnificent beauty in one way or another. We just aren’t always able to spot it because we’re caught up with the details of daily living.

Somewhere between shopping for toilet paper, getting our work done, and running to the bank we have to find time to appreciate the beauty that crosses our paths. I’m convinced we need beautiful things. They restore us unlike anything else.

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I Can’t Breathe Either

Warning: I have some strong opinions, which are expressed here with some mild “language.” As always, they are only my opinions and not those of any organization, entity or human I’m connected with, hence why they’re posted at “Patsy’s Ponderings.” Consider yourself fairly warned, and read at will!

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I’ve watched a man die. He was choked to death by a police officer in Staten Island on a bright July afternoon. After he was restrained by a method that has been banned for about 20 years, he collapsed on the street and said 11 times, “I can’t breathe.” Four police officers watched him. A grand jury did not indict the police officer who choked him, even though the city’s medical examiners ruled Eric Garner’s death was a result of actions by the police.

Garner was pronounced dead at the hospital about an hour after the incident. The medical examiners concluded he was killed by neck compression from the apparent choke-hold by the police officer, along with the compression of his chest and prone position during his physical restraint by police. They also listed contributing factors like his size and medical conditions.

He may not have been the picture of health, but he was standing on the street before being approached by the police, not exhibiting any difficulties with his asthma, heart disease or obesity. And just to be clear – nature gets privileges to determine when our time is finished that are not extended to someone just because they have a badge, a gun and an attitude.

I am not an “anti-police” or “anti-system” person. In fact, just the opposite. I have had family and dear friends who are part of both of those systems.
I believe – still – that the majority of police officers are reasonable and respectful.
I believe – also – that we cannot overlook the fact that white police officers killing black men and boys is far too common.

What are we white people so damned afraid of? What? I’m not saying I’ve never been leary of a group of young black men who seemed to be feeling their oats a little too much. But I’ve also been leary of a group of young white men exhibiting the same behavior. And a group of young men of different colors doing the same. Why do black men and boys scare us so much? I’m not being flippant. It’s a real question. What are we so afraid of? And why are white men seemingly more afraid than anyone else?

I respect that police have to make decisions in the moment that are difficult and can have devastating consequences. I do not accept that a police officer approaching a man on the street who is doing nothing to raise suspicion, initiating contact, and his partner then choking him to death while he’s saying he can’t breathe, falls into that category.

We’ve seen far too many of these cases of black men and teenagers dying at the hands of those who believe they are “protecting” themselves and others. In most cases there are some unknowns, some uncertainties, some gray areas. In this case we can all see what happened because it’s on video. I am not seeing a lot of gray area. A police officer initiated contact with a man, accusing him of something all evidence indicates the man was not doing. His partner then proceeded to kill him. HE KILLED HIM. He killed him while the man was doing the equivalent of begging for mercy by saying, “I can’t breathe.”

You can spin it however you’d like, and as a public relations professional I’m certainly no stranger to how that works, but the facts in this case are that a police officer initiated an unnecessary interaction with a citizen and the citizen was then murdered by the police force. Did the officer intentionally murder Garner? I doubt it, although I’m not willing to say that for sure. I doubt he got dressed for work that morning thinking, “I’m gonna kill someone today.” But that officer’s history indicates he had some definite difficulties with knowing when to stop. It’s documented – not speculation.

The officer suspected Garner of selling loose cigarettes, something he had done before. Garner was obviously frustrated at being accused of something that there’s no indication he was doing. He did not respond to the officer in the gentlest way, but he didn’t threaten him either. Regardless, the other officer immediately went to an extreme measure to restrain him. Even if he had been selling loose cigarettes, isn’t that an offense that would be the equivalent of a parking ticket?

Understand, he was just standing on the street. He wasn’t doing anything except standing there. The police created the entire incident in which they murdered a citizen. On the street. In broad daylight. This particular precinct has a very large number of substantiated complaints against it, and the officer who killed Garner has had three cases where he has been specifically accused. It seems the police are cocky enough to believe they can kill someone on the street, without even the cover of darkness, and it’s okay. And, for reasons I cannot fathom, some people do believe it’s okay. This is not okay, people. It’s not. No! Not okay!

Even a grand jury has decided it was okay – that there’s no reason to have a trial for this murder. Fortunately, Attorney General Eric Holder feels differently and is launching a federal investigation. This is one of the reasons I’m a big believer in layers of government. Because sometimes people are just too damned ignorant to make wise choices, and another layer of government has to explain the error of their ways. I’ll just mention the Little Rock Nine here, if you need an example.

Garner did not have a circumspect record. Neither did the police officer. So, lets just assume they are equals in that they’ve both had some “difficulties.” But, thank God, we are not walking around in danger of being killed because of things we’ve done in the past. Well, at least not if we’re white.

Therein lies the rub. I’m a white girl who was raised in the south and has made my home in the midwest for a long time. I’m no expert on race relations. The community I live in is about 95% white. That’s not why I chose it to live in it – in fact, I didn’t even know that until I’d lived here for awhile.  But the fact remains that other than a few years, I’ve lived in places with little racial diversity.

However, I have been fortunate enough to have real, honest interaction with people who are not walking through the world in white skin – at least it seems honest and real to me, although I have a feeling I’m only getting tip of the iceberg because they doubt I can handle the full story. Those in black skin grow up with different conversations. When they’re children, their parents tell them they can’t have the realistic looking toy gun because they know there’s a danger they might be shot by the police as a result. They learn to navigate the world differently. They pay attention to things those of us who are white don’t even notice.

The white girl in me was stunned by this knowledge and only through sheer determination could I fight off the idea of, “oh, you’re being overly sensitive.” I knew intellectually that wasn’t the case because I valued the opinions of those who were telling me these things. But I confess it took me some time to integrate this knowledge into myself as a way of “knowing” something instead of just having information.

I’m heartbroken to say that I no longer have any difficulty with that. It would be a much better world if my non-white friends were actually being overly sensitive and I was able to brush aside what I’m hearing as, “oh, it may have been that way at one time… but not now… we have a black president… ”

But I can’t. The body count won’t let me ignore the truth.

I know better.

I can’t breathe, either.

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Beautiful Bits

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This fall I was able to spend a brief time in Kentucky. My brother took my friend, Greg, and me down to Axe Lake, where I shot this little bit of life in the water. It’s good to see beauty, to note it, and to share it.

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Becoming Who We Are Meant to Be

Becoming who we are meant to be must be a very long process, at least if my own experience is any indication. More than a half-century of living has left me feeling a bit bewildered by many parts of this whole life thing.

I feel like I’m still being steered through life by bumping into things, bouncing off them, and heading off in whatever new direction that indicates. I continue on that path until I again bump into something, and the pattern repeats.

I know some people grab onto whatever they bump into, try to figure out what it is, a way around it or through it, and proceed in as much of a  straight line as possible. I’m guessing either method brings its own lessons, triumphs and pains.

Then there are those folks who bump into something and just immediately sit down and remain in place. I’m not sure of the benefits of that, but there must be some. You probably have fewer bruises from bumping into things, for one. But, I’m guessing others sometimes stumble over you and that can’t be comfortable either. In fact, that sounds worse than doing the bumping yourself.

Regardless of how we go through life, it’s all a process of becoming. Everything we learn is valuable. Every person we meet is there to teach us something or learn something from us – sometimes it’s difficult to tell if we’re the student or the teacher.

I suppose it’s all an unfolding process. We learn a little something here, pick up another little bit there, and eventually figure out how to create a life. At least that seems to be the ideal goal – becoming the person we are meant to be while leading the life we want.

 

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Connection and Shame

I have been mourning the loss of a friendship the last few months. We have drifted apart over years, but the final shreds of connection we had left were severed more recently.

It was a quick and unexpected ending. Words were said that left me stunned. They struck me at a deep level, probably far more than the speaker intended. But words can’t be undone and there they were – spoken – out loud – forever present in the air – tangible.

The dismantling of the relationship has been a long time coming, and I have not been blameless in it by any means. I made what I considered to be valiant efforts over the years to rebuild the connection we once had. But, truth be told, I wasn’t willing to make the effort I knew was required. It seemed too much, too monumental, and too repetitious.

Really, I wanted her to make the effort. But I think it had ended for her some time ago and it had been me trying to hang on. Finally, she said something that could give me absolutely no doubt about her feelings so I had to accept it.

We have had some magnificent times together – some laughter, some tears, some dreaming, some sorrows, and some joys. But there was always more to our relationship. A nasty undercurrent, ready to bubble to the surface when one of us felt threatened by the other. Sometimes we would push each other’s buttons, like all friends do. But this was a scarier thing – always lurking and always a surprise when it manifested. But if we were both willing to walk through the fire we would come out stronger on the other side.

Maybe we both became less willing to do that. I know I did. I felt like I’d done it time and again, and it took something out of me every time. Beyond that, it stopped making a difference as far as I could see. We were stuck in the same cycle, covering the same ground. I just didn’t have the energy to do it anymore. But I’m not sure it was my place to judge if it was useful or not.

When my life changed dramatically and I became fully self-employed, it was more apparent than ever that we couldn’t find a common ground anymore. Being self-employed is a tremendous gift and I remain so grateful for it, but it created a new separation in this friendship.

Brene Brown has written about connection in “Daring Greatly.” She says, “Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

For this friendship, that connection no longer exists. I’m not sure I made her feel seen, heard and valued. She certainly didn’t make me feel that way either. I could offer a thousand ideas about how we got there – things I did or didn’t do and things she did or didn’t do. But it doesn’t really matter at this point. Best to cut the losses and move on.

But it’s sad. I value connection with other humans a great deal. I hate to let go of a long-term relationship, but I’m having trouble finding a way to salvage this that I’m willing to invest the energy in. Maybe if I knew it would work… Maybe not…

Brown says shame unravels connection. Maybe one or both of us feels shame for something we’ve said or done over the years. Maybe we can’t find a way out of that. Maybe we don’t even want to try.

For whatever reason, it seems that I, like her, gave up some time ago. I wasn’t brave enough to say so. But she was.

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