The law of the jungle…


My son-in-law Tim sent this surveillance photo of Henry and Ellen snoozing away a big chunk of a nice St. Paul Sunday morning.

Back in the day when I was Ellen and Reid’s age, workplace stress seemed somewhat different than what I perceive it is now.  It was… softer.  Your job was cut-and-dried.  You knew your role, your task(s) and you either liked your job or you didn’t.  People seemed to get along.  Perhaps we wore blinders back then or maybe it was just the places I worked (a TV newsroom and a school system) but things weren’t as hurried.  Maybe it is that the workplace is now so hyper-computerized that it makes it easier for us to keep up – or keep an eye – on each other and what someone is doing and how they’re doing it.  Something has changed and I have trouble putting my finger on the precise change and its root cause.

Ellen is teaching.  If her Minnesota district is like those down this way, teaching to tests, and I don’t mean the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, is sort of a side-door assault on teacher creativity.  Reid has been downsized once and is scratching his way up the ladder.  Both are on-the-job pressures I thought would take them years to experience, but here they are.

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April 11, 2011

Ellen/Reid: My little lettuce pot on the front porch is producing more romaine and arugula than can possibly be consumed by the average adult.  I douse it with homemade dressing based on balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and olive oil.  If this were Iowa the rabbits would mow it down to the dirt but down here they don’t even give it a second look.  The spinach has been wonderful but it will run its course soon enough.  Now, it’s on to tomatoes.  One plant will be plunked in a pot this weekend.

Whew, last week was a rough one at work.  I will spare you the gory details other than to describe them as gory, but a meat cleaver would do a more humane job of slicing and dicing when compared to some folks downtown.  I mentioned to my boss that my faith in workplace humanity had taken a hit but he reminded me the “law of the jungle” prevails and he’s right.  I have discovered a new pragmatism whereby the bad or iffy things roll off my shoulders and down my back and away.  It is all about survival and just like the animal kingdom, it is usually reserved for the fittest.  We all have our burdens to shoulder whether it’s in schools or digital agencies or banks.  It’s just that the names of the protagonists that change along with the circumstances.  On the way in this morning I was wondering what I would write to you about surviving in your jungles but you guys probably have a better handle on that than me.

No doubt it would require some mixture of pragmatism, patience, knowing what battles to fight, turning a blind eye, an honest work ethic, and perhaps a thickened skin.  Improving one’s skills would fit in there somewhere but survivability is as much pluck and grit as much as anything else.  When I master all those traits I’ll let you know.  But I’m nowhere close to that right now so don’t bother holding your breaths.  Sometimes the notion of achieving for the common good gets misplaced or forgotten altogether as the engine of commerce grinds forward.

As long as I’m whining I might as well move on to another sore subject.  Mike and Mort were in town this weekend, and we played Friday afternoon at a nice course in Fort Mill, SC.  Not terribly penal but it can bite.  Sure enough, after a few holes my swing collapsed like a house of cards and those two took infinite joy in reminding me of my abundant hitches and stops/starts every time I try to hit the ball.  I think what I will do is just live with the demon rather than try to overcome it for the umpteenth time.  Nothing seems to work and it’s a flaw I’ll just have to coexist with.  I did walk the course pushing a cart and emerged none the worse for wear.  No repercussions to report.  Mike is about to start a series of Stephen King films and that appears to be his swan song.  He’ll exit film editing, he says, when the series is complete.  I think the total is three to five films, something like that.  Mort is doing pretty well and I encouraged him to give his stalled Western book another jump start.  He’s a good writer but has a case of writer’s block, the same as the rest of us get more often than not.  We ate more than we should and just basically hung out most of the time.  They treated Felicia and me to a fun dinner Friday night at a local bistro over at that mall you like, Ellen.  We traded lies and old stories but it was great fun.  Saturday night we had bad storms and heavy rain, so heavy it was like, to cite an indelicate quote from Pat Drickey, “a cow pissing on a flat rock.”  It really came down.

Late next week it’s on to Grand Island to see your grandmother.  She did not sound very good on Saturday and I can’t wait to get out there.  I am very apprehensive about it.  Your uncle says she is gaining weight which is good, but when she sounds like she does it scares me.  Keep your phones on that weekend and I’ll let you say a few words to her in her room.  That should perk her up a little bit.  She could certainly use it.

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