Archive for February, 2009

Boston School Fire and Fry Pan

February 25th, 2009

Let’s be plain, our nation’s hope for egalitarianism and fairness lives in the soil of public education. Boston was early in this effort, but has yet to commit to high-quality or even adequate free schooling.

For example, the newish schools superintendent, Carol Johnson, shamelessly waved her new zoning plan. The certain result will be relegate many students who need good school to the city’s worst.


Emotional Baggage


In my house, we’re vets on the zone wars. We have adapted to, researched, fought against, and survived multiple versions of dictates of where our boys could go to school.It is no exaggeration that the rules have totally changed multiple times. We also have the unusual perspective of time. There were 11 years between our first and second sons and three before the third.Boston residents know well enough that missing street signs ridicule the ignorant rather than reflect on the city’s incompetence and indifference. Likewise, for schools, selecting them can be a gamble or long and arduous gaming of the system.

What you read and see out of the School Committee is either not honest reality or at least not full reality. Perhaps the newer lottery-style, rank-your-top-choices schools request is better than the first way we learned. We quite literally had to move twice to be positive we were in the zone for good schools of the right grade.

Despite cost center one being very bright, that guaranteed virtually nothing.We got him in the Quincy Elementary in Chinatown for primary grades. The committee had zoned that for Beacon Hill and Chinatown, with the seemingly accurate perception that parents from the Wasp/yuppie and Asian-American cultures would ensure that their issue worked hard and reflected well on the system.

We got condo’ed out a couple of apartments in the realty frenzy. That ended up with our moving specifically to see that he was in the right zone for the then high-performing middle school, the Timilty.

Boston has retained an atavistic one-year school transition joke. Elementaries  run through fifth grade, middle schools can be three years or maybe a combo with high. The three exam schools —Latin School, Latin Academy and O’Bryant — start at seventh.

That queer year allegedly is for preparing the smarter kids for the rigors of the exam schools. For our first son though, when he went to Timilty, then a six-day-a-week school, and got to Latin School, he asked, “Where’s the work?”


Perils of Passivity


To our amazement, many parents are either ignorant of the game and its possible outcomes or simply so busy with the necessary duties of their lives that they took what they got. In our visits to potential schools, we met quite a few who said a neighborhood school was their top or only priority.We looked at the test results, spoke with parents and teachers and read the papers. The difference among education among city schools here astonished. Yet, if knowing your kid can walk to school outweighs lifelong effects, you’re not going to be shopping opportunities.For cost centers two and three, the formalized zone system changed everything. Residence alone did not give you a seat. We learned from other parents, including one who worked for the committee, that making a regular pain of yourself by phone and if possible in person helped tremendously, as did knowing or being related to those in the selection process.

We ended up with three boys through good schools, with diverse activities as well as high-quality teachers, and all three in exam schools. It was exhausting!


Harder, Better Way


The goal would be clear and the primary method obvious as well. Accomplishing that is far from it. Quite simply, if all the schools here are from good to great, we can stop the games. Those who benefit most of public education would get enough to offer them the chance of careers, higher education, and steps toward economic equality.Since Horace Mann became Massachusetts’ first secretary of education in 1837, the method has been before us. He had fallen in with Unitarians on moving to Boston, thus honing his unusually keen sense of social justice.

Mann proposed:

  1. that the public should no longer remain ignorant and free
  2. that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public
  3. that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children of all diversities
  4. that this education must be free of religious influence
  5. that this education must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society
  6. and that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers

So, there’s the progressive agenda yet again. In this area, it requires money and brain commitment to high-quality universal public education. While the rough infrastructure, physical as well as employee, is in place, much, much work must happen to elevate the lowest schools and retrain or eliminate the inadequate teachers and administrators. Yet, we are far more than half way to this goal.

Our current Gov. Deval Patrick claims he’ll be about that business. Even before the 2008 financial chaos, he was beset by severe budget constraints. Particularly, legislators had pushed off education and other essential expenses under some pretense that we’d be just fine without higher taxes. Liars.

Of course such real public education includes the risk of intense shock to the comfortable. The privileged can pass along their fortunes through favorable tax and real-estate laws and they can ensure their offspring go to schools that provide lifelong connections.

Even those without malice for the less favored by birth have no reason to campaign for true egalitarianism. It is only natural to watch out for your own. No matter how short and wide the dunghill, there may be only so much room at the top. There can be peril in elevating others.

Yet, the laws and regulations favor efforts for better schools. We have our informal aristocracy, but that conflicts with our long-held and Constitutionally defined ideal of fairness and equality.

I do believe a city first and then a state with all-good schools is possible. When that happens, Mann’s mandates could be much more real than they are.

Surely, were Boston to do that and the whole state to go about the same, the rest of the nation could not pretend it is impossible. They would have to act. The alternative would be endless explaining of failure to their voters.

Mann put it simply in words that work well nearly 200 years later, “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men—the balance wheel of the social machinery.”

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Happy Joint Benders

February 21st, 2009

Just over a week ago, I was in final exam for hospital escape. Docs and nurses mostly know that patients get the bum’s rush — out a day or two before common sense and compassion would have them go. There are other sufferers who need that bed as their ticket to surgery or other treatment.

Over three days in and over two since surgery, I was well aware of the 18-hour-a-day corridor cacophony.  Yet in the first session, the physical therapist, Jason, quickly concurred with the nurse that I needed more than one hour and a lesson on how to pull myself to quasi-standing in a walker.

The second session the next day was far more productive. Jason tailored it as a short course on climbing and descending stairs as my instant final exam. He knew I had stairs that I’d have to climb, clamber or crawl up from the hour I got home, quiet home.

There are two steps from the front sidewalk to the walkway, three to the front door (no railings), one tall step into the house, and an ominous 13 to the upstairs with bedroom and bathroom. On task, Jason was all techniques and tips.

Of course, I rarely consider our stairs. We enter on what I know now to be euphemistically the first floor.  Someone delivering a new appliance will ask as research for the calculus of front, rear deck or bulkhead stairs. Otherwise, my mind had me walking into our house from the street. (In reality, I know better, I’ve been involved in wheelchair access for churches, but still…)

Jason carried my new aluminum friend, Comrade Crutch. Like a spent bacchanal, I forced myself upright. A day after my first go at the walker, this effort was merely intense pain, not light-flashing, uvea-drenching agony. I didn’t care if it was the narcotic or a tiny healing trend. I could stand and still breath. Yeah me.

So my job was to fairly trot down the hall 100 feet or so to a central stairwell and learn how to ascend and descend stairs with one good leg, one crutch and a handrail. The exam would begin when I had raced to my starting position.up.jpg

Jason is delightfully kind, patient and calm. The latter quality made me ask whether he found satisfaction in being part of the medical process on the best end — the one where people are better, will continue to get better and are better off for what you do for them.

He gushed in a positive response. It seems he figured that out in mid-teens. With a bad back injury, he got great help from a PT guy and thought what a good profession. You are not treating people for debilitating diseases, ones likely to get worse despite all efforts. You are not treating the soon dying. You are not even prepping folk for a surgery they may not survive.

Instead, your patients are maimed, but almost certain to improve. Yes, Jason said, he had been right. There is great satisfaction in PT.

The hospital flight had 10 steps to the landing. Despite my willing otherwise, it had 10 down as well.

Bad foot down. Good foot up. That was the first pair of rules. There were techniques too, like the crutch no more than a third away from the lip of the stair.

I passed. Surely I could not have the previous day when the pain of merely standing was, shall we say, memorable.

The orthopedic surgeons are terrifically cavalier about such matters. (Think, “Our work is done here, Tonto.”) They told me on Tuesday night, a few hours after surgery, that I could walk on the busted leg on Wednesday.

By that they really meant, said the nurses, that they had placed a metal rod inside the larger bone, so that bone could theoretically bear weight. Those tiny matters of nerves the breaks and surgery damaged, a limb swollen to bursting, agony from any muscular contraction in the leg, and even masses of oozing blood and other fluids saturating dressings were not their issues. They had in fact fixed the major bone.

Such compartmentalization is assuredly necessary and useful for them. They are in many ways the auto-mechanics or cabinetmakers of the profession. In my case, no artful diagnosis was required; the x-rays showed all. Then the cowboy surgeons went inside to pound a “nail” as they call the titanium rod inside the tibia, while rearranging the muscles around the other broken bone to hold it in place. Staple ‘im up and he’s ready to walk, hell, to dance.

The Jasons of the medical world do not bring home the big bags of bucks. They lack the swagger and nonchalance of the surgeons. Yet, Jason is around for the healing and happiness. I think he wins.

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Eyebrow Triggers

February 20th, 2009

I fear I have neither the obsession nor the talent to start a new À la recherche du temps perdu riffing off the visiting nurse’s eyebrows. Yet, as Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust traveled instantly and deeply into his past upon the catalyst of madeleines, I had forgotten my mother’s eyebrow rituals and stylings until a few days ago.

madeleine.jpg

With the exception of a few of us of simian features, our eyebrows are far more similar than different — blond, black, heavy, wispy and variations. Not so Shelia’s.

I am sure people notice her unusual semi-circular painted-on eyebrows. They brought out a bit more to me, enough for me to ask her about them. I felt I could because she is so open in mannerisms.

Sure enough, with a smile, she said, “Mary Quant.”

I’m of an age that I recall that British designer’s huge impact from mini skirts to white stockings to high-contrast outfits to, it turns out, innovative cosmetics. Shelia lived in England for many years and said that there the Quant people taught her how she could shave her thin brows and make what she wanted. She did and does.

My wife is sure she misinterpreted the salon’s teachings, but I disagree. I recall the 1960s and 1970s New York and London fashion. The starkness of much of it. The look-at-me aspect. The confidence. The variations on the all too ordinary.

Those eyebrows take a self-possession. It’s not like a tattoo that a lover or co-visitor to the nude beach will see. Your eyebrows are right there.

She paints them black, thin and an inch or so away from the eye in a semi-circle. She has a medium brown skin tone and it works well for her.

I was suddenly back to watching my mother paint on her eyebrows. She was not particularly vain, but she did create her brows every morning. As many WWII types, she plucked them heavily. A hairy brow was not civilized in her world. Then left with fewer and fewer returning hairs, she used a lot of eyebrow pencils and such to carefully create rather full and very symmetrical brows.

Hers though were less of a fashion statement than Shelia’s are. My mother’s stood in place and appearance for the originals.

bobby.jpgThat rolled into another vanity — curls. Born with straight, fine, blond hair, my mother had bought in sometime before my memory that tight little curls were necessary.

Nightly she’d use dozens (hundreds?) of bobby pins in another ritual that must have taken 20 or more minutes. Before a book or magazine, she’s read and mechanically cover her head in a parody of cake icing. Then, of course, she’d have to sleep on them and remove them in the morning…before the eyebrows.

My sister picked up neither of those rituals from our mother. I don’t know how many eyebrows I have notice in passing — what with little barbells, colored orange and more — without thinking of Wanda’s morning artistry.

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Hospital Howling and Hazing

February 19th, 2009

Invariably, the nursing grins start and the tone lowers on the day you leave the hospital. I and everyone else hears, “You’ll be glad to be home…where you can sleep and where it’s quite.”

I know that not all hospitals are the crowd scene my Wing 15-D at Brigham and Women’s was. There aren’t enough movie extras to maintain the hubbub, shouting and laughter. Oddly enough, moaning and beseeching patients were a tiny subset of the aural traffic.

I have been in places, visiting my wife and other relatives, where the staff enforced relative stillness and hushed unnecessary. In fact, after the delivery of our third, she was in a maternity wing in this same hospital that was not out of Ben Hur. On 15-D, it was a party, at least for nurses and other staff.

Note that I have already been taken to task privately twice in the fast few days for, for, well harrumphing. Both my middle-aged niece and a generally wise elderly minister friend from way back have written that so long as I am alive after the broken bones and surgery, I have no real problem.

Of course, were I so Panglossian, I would not host Harrumph!

On 15-D, nurses and other medical sorts partied loud, long and often, in the hallways and rooms. The clichéd HOSPITAL ZONE: QUIET! was neither a sign nor a way of life. Plus, my roomie was a narcissist who moaned until he got nurse and aide attention for nothing in particular, played his TV 24 hours a day (I was told I couldn’t even ask him to turn it down), and he was deaf enough that he and all of his guests shouted every word. He truly needed many people at a time in his/our space and air.

The absurdity of the Brigham’s High-Volume Theatre transcended either annoyance or self-pity. I had been wheeled into an alternate world where there were, as the Black Eyed Peas sing, “People livin’ like they ain’t got no mamas.”

I realized a few days after surgery that there was a grocery-cashier mentality that contributed to the hazing of patients. We’d appear and leave — by foot, wheelchair or gurney. They’d be there every day for their shifts.

You know the little joy of a cashier who is efficient and considerate, the one who whisks your yogurt and bag of oranges through. In truth, there’s little motivation, other than what their mama taught them about being thoughtful. We should be sure to praise those nice folk as they help us.

The zen types might say that such behavior is in the moment. I say bless those who are nice to others caught in their processes and harrumph to those who do not.

To a couple of the nurses who said they bet I would be glad to be in my quiet house, I did say that I was astonished at how loud 15-D was. They agreed it was very loud indeed.

Unlike a Greek organization, Brigham’s didn’t bestow a life-long membership in the club after the hazing. They didn’t have to. People were waiting for every bed.

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Earn that Green Burial

February 19th, 2009


You want green? How ’bout those green burials?

What, you say they’re illegal in Massachusetts, which is why we don’t have that option. You say wrong.

Cross-Post Note: This appears at Marry in Massachusetts.

The cemetery (public as well as private) and funeral businesses refuse to offer the choice. There is no law and in some places a simple, easily overturned local ordinance would be the only impediment.

Don’t take my word. Come to Cambridge to Mount Auburn Cemetery‘s Story chapel. At 1 p.m., Mark Harris will talk about his research on and the status of green burials. He wrote Grave Matters: A journey Through the Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial.

We can pretend that if we have an embalmed corpse, a metal casket, a cast liner, and then a durable gravestone, we provide some eternal presence. Of course, in our heart of hearts we know that at best those wasteful and expensive symbols for those still alive will last a hundred or maybe a thousand years. In Earth time, that wouldn’t be a single Cheerios in the cereal box of eternity.

The traditional form of nearly all cultures was to wrap the corpse and put it in the ground or a cave to dissolve, to return its elements. Really, the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out. That seems what we should all want.

My wife and I would like the idea of snuggling down into the earth. That was very real to me last week as I went into my first surgery and first general anesthesia. Hell, people die on the operating table!

We do no have the option citizens do in Maine, California, South Carolina and elsewhere. Hmm. Our advocates are the soft-spoken Funeral Consumers Alliance of Eastern Massachusetts.

They are nice folk, but we all have that limbo problem. There are no laws preventing green burials in the commonwealth. Individual cemeteries would have to offer or be started to offer them.

I suspect Harris will speak of the funeral biz’ tactics of saying terrible things will happen if they don’t pump poisons into our corpses and don’t bury is in the full armored vehicle of death. They even say without the concrete grave liner, it’s hard for the lawn-mowing crew. Somehow people managed on this planet for thousands of years and even learned such incredible engineering feats as piling extra dirt on top to allow for settling.

It appears we’re going to have to ask for the option. We’re going to have to say we don’t want to bury high-carbon footprint caskets and trappings, along with highly-toxic embalming fluid. We’re going to have to say we’d like to go out naturally.

I’ll be there on March 21st, likely still on crutches or walker.


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Awful, Unforgettable, Regrettable Sounds

February 17th, 2009

Think of cracking sounds:

  • a rye WASA flatbread broken with a muffled, organic crick-crack
  • a frozen lake bed with a guttural, warning rending sound
  • the satisfying and cheery kindling wood snap

In our seasons and for different purposes, we crack this and that frequently.

Last week in the ER, the orthopedic surgeon examining my badly broken lower left leg agreed on one crack. The sound my tibia made as it turned violently in my muscles is unlike those others. “That’s a sound no one wants to hear,” he said.

It was 10:03 a.m. when I slid on a steep, icy sidewalk before my foot apparently caught part of a dry patch, enough to hold the shoe while my body rushed past. Even a week later, the sound is in my brain.

snap.jpgFirst of all, it is loud. I have heard louder cracks from hardwood trees splitting, but a large bone snapping is ax-crashing-the-oak-door loud. Plus, if it’s your own leg or arm bone(s), your ears are inches or at the most a few feet away.

Next, it is clear and crisp. It lacks the complexity and resonance of musical instruments in its brevity. As sharp in the air as it is distinctive to the ear, the break crack neither rings nor seems to echo.

My ER doc said when you’ve heard this kind of crack, you never forget it and you know immediately what it is. I add that it is emotionally laden, not in the least because it confirms that we are not always in charge of what happens to us in a given moment or for the foreseeable future. The regret and dread fill your thoughts and emotions immediately. They are there for a long visit.

In the ER, that efficient and pleasant ortho guy also exposed me to the equally awful and lingering sounds — those of realigning the two broken bones.

Allegedly, his assistant was shooting me at short intervals with large IV doses of some powerful drug. Instead, I felt like those guys in the old Westerns, with maybe a leather strap to bite through. After the doctor put both hands in place on each side of the former ankle, he told his chum to shoot me up. Then he alternately pressed down on the bones and pulled on the foot to place the bones in better spots inside the muscles.

Those sounds lacked the sudden and crisp break tones. Instead, I imagined that this is what a fierce predator, a wolverine, would produce tearing into a leg for a brutal bite. Bones grated against each other and muscles gasped little sucks as they separated from the shards.

Perhaps because this went on for several minutes rather than the second of the break, it was the more unpleasant to the ear. There’s certainly a reason why the boys and girls of ortho do most of their work when the patient is unfeeling, and particularly, unhearing.

I’d like very much to go through the rest of my life without hearing those sounds again. Now I need to let time and gentle thoughts help clear them from memory.

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ERs by Elimination

February 17th, 2009

“Take me to Brigham and Women’s…just don’t take me to the Faulkner,” said I to the EMT and ambulance driver last week. Immediately, the EMT shot back, “I wouldn’t take my dog or cat to the Faulkner.”

I was about to go to an emergency room — and certainly into surgery — with an ankle and foot hanging left at a right angle to my left leg. I was at least fortunate enough to say where I didn’t want to head.

With family and friends, I have had several Faulkner ER experiences, each of them bad in its own way. In addition, they share the sameness of clueless, ultra-literal staff and  New Mexico-style, manaña pacing.

I immediately recall:

  • Broadsided by a car while biking, I went from West Street in Hyde Park to the closest, Faulkner,  ER, on a very unbusy Saturday morning. They parked me in a hall on a gurney, uncovered for over three hours without even head x-rays. Apparently, they were eventually getting around to verifying that my Harvard Vanguard health covered me. I staggered into an office to get attention and a blanket.
  • A family member with an injured joint sat from late morning, into afternoon, into evening with what seemed a very low level of traffic in the room or ambulance entrance. People checked in and got a time-stamped chit if they came in ambulatory. After seeing people who arrived long after us taken back for help, I asked the women at the desk. One immediately and aggressively informed me that I was absolutely wrong, it was first come-first served. I pointed out a woman who arrived four hours later going in and the woman at the desk fixed on my eyes and flat-out lied to me that she had arrive before us.

Amusingly, B&W bought Faulkner in 1998 (joined in their corporate terms).  They also linked with the spreading organism that is Harvard Vanguard two or three years later. You, naive you, might think that they offer similar levels of medical care for this teaching-hospital giant.

I’ve heard many Faulkner horribles. I don’t know how their death rates compare to B&W and elsewhere. I do know that more urban ERs, particularly Boston Medical, have a more guns-and-guts reputation, as in don’t show up unless you’ve turned blue or are bleeding heavily from more than one place.

Yet from my tiny sampling of a single ambulance crew, my memories and perceptions of the Faulkner ER seem to have a tinge of truth. If the pros don’t think it’s good enough for their animals…

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Surgeon’s Present

February 16th, 2009

My recent, and only real, surgery seems to have included a true surprise gift to my wife. It’s nothing like spam emails promise either.

foot.jpgI may suddenly be ticklish. If so, she has a lot of foot ambushing to do.

While no sadistic, I haven’t always respected her pleas not to tickle a foot. Her forced giggles are exhilarating.

What wasn’t fair is that she has never been able to get me back. While I can certainly feel tickle attempts and even jump a bit when startled by nail strokes, I never feel like laughing and could easily totally ignore the effort. She says that’s not fair.

A week ago, I had major surgery on a broken lower left leg. Now when people change the dressing or even wash the sole or side of the foot, I am not in control.

If this holds, I have no doubt that the pent up tickling will begin, likely as soon as the cast is off.

I hear that turnabout is fair play. She’s been waiting a long time for that. What did Doyle have Holmes say — The game is afoot?

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Blackberry in Charge

February 8th, 2009

Puppet on strings Let me recommend letting the phone ring and the Blackberry beep, at least when you’re occupied.

Some years ago, B.C. — before cellphones — dinner guests would tell me excitedly, “Your phone’s ringing!” They seemed helpful but amazed as though I was too deaf or such a slow information processor that I was unaware.

I think I was pretty cool and not overly snide about replying that I was aware it was ringing.

Sometimes over the course of the afternoon or evening, they’d revisit that moment and ask me how I could ignore the phone. I’d say we had an answering machine or in later times the phone company’s answering feature. Moreover, no one was dying or even ill that I was aware of.

The real answer is that I think the telephone works for me and not the other way around.

Others view this differently. I have a long-term friend who is a slave to call-waiting. I told him that if he interrupted our call to pick up another one, I’d hang up and he could call be when he time to speak with me, me, me. I did just that.

This has become the age of the mastery by Blackberry, and 140-character-max gossip by twitter and What are doing right now? Facebook.  It seems the twitter people are the most trivial and the Blackberry ones most enslaved by the technology.

Look up, take your fingers off that keypad,  and be in the moment.

I have the advantage of having lived through earlier technologies, ones that moved slowly enough that I could get used to each and be in charge of before the next one. I can bore my kids and amaze adults with such tales as:

  • You used to have to pay extra for TouchTone on your phone and many cities and exchanges didn’t offer it. Dial it up, Jack.
  • A corollary is in the little mountain town in West Virginia where I spent summers with my grandparents, they had human operators and no dial phones. When I was dating the evening operator’s daughter, I could pick up the phone and say, “Elsie, do you know where Becky is?” She did. She knew where everyone was and what we were doing.
  • I used personal computers before IBM made them and before Windows. I used the Internet before there was a World Wide Web and a graphical interface. Data came in 9-dot characters.
  • I zipped right along getting and giving more info that I could use with electronic bulletin boards. I used telnet to link to other computers and located data with gopher, veronica, archie and jughead on university and other repositories.
  • I shared time on mainframes across the country and stumbled through a variety of programming languages just to be able to use my terminals.
  • The first portable computer I used was a Compaq, which we didn’t call a laptop, rather a lap crusher. It looked like and was the size of a heavy portable sewing machine.

So, there were CP/M, Apple, Windows and UNIX personal computers. There used to be a huge difference in configuring Mac and non-Mac computers. Macs were absurdly expensive, had proprietary interfaces, limited what you could set or use with them, but didn’t require knowing anything. You didn’t have to flip internal switches or move around tiny jumper pins.

 

Blackberry is not the boss of you.

PDAs, cellphones, phone video, Web-enabled Blackberry and Blackberry-like objects have a lot more features, but are not orders of magnitude better than the existing tech toy chest. Where they are really superior is not in the new tricks they can perform or even their speed. Rather, they continue to drop in real and relative price to older, somewhat comparable technologies.So, my gadget credentials may not be as intense as Al Goldstein‘s, but I mention them for perspective on why I can let the phone ring. I can also do email two or three times a day. I never let my mail programs beep or call out to me in desperation. That way lies inefficiency, maybe to the point of obsession.When you put yourself in control of your technologies, you need to share this idiosyncrasy with your world. Broadcast a message that you read and answer email before office hours begin and then again at 3 p.m., for example. It’s amazing how the number of vague and trivial emails you receive will dwindle when they realize you are not like everyone else. The number of impulse messages plunges.Likewise, about 10 years ago, I got a wonderful tip in a time-management class. Actually I got two and the first was not related to technology and communication. That one was for people who run meetings — start on time. If you say 10 a.m., begin the meeting exactly at 10, even if it’s you or maybe one other person. Let the others play catch-up when they arrive. You very quickly will develop the reputation as an eccentric, but people will show up on time for your meetings out of self-defense. Your meetings will be the most efficient. cell.jpgFor communications, get hard with your voice mail message. Use something like, “I am not at my phone right now, but if you leave a message with exactly what information you need from me and when you need it, I’ll provide that.” Unlike the 90-plus-percent of vague, “This is Bill. Call me,” voice messages, you’ll get only a few with very focused questions.

Most others will be people sputtering and hanging up, with a few calling back much later with something you can do quickly. As a manager, I found my daily calls and voice mails dropping from over 100 to a half dozen or so.

The larger idea for technology is that you are in charge of whether you are interrupt driven. Does the beep of your voice mail or Blackberry shift you from important tasks to serving the undefined or ill defined instant messages, tweets or tweet-sized, time-wasting whims of others?

You really can quickly re-train your peers, bosses and subordinates. Show them that Blackberry is not the boss of you. Rather than losing your job for being unresponsive, you’ll quickly be known as the efficient one, the person who doesn’t let people or electronics waste your time.

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Let Loose the Dogs of Age

February 6th, 2009

aarpdog.jpgTo their mild amusement, my two teens get occasional solicitations to join the AARP. My wife and I play tag with the invites we get.

There isn’t a single compelling reason to join, even though we are over 49.5, the base membership age. We don’t take prescription drugs and other benefits, like discounts on hotels, are the same as AAA offers. Moreover the huge lobbying emphasis for the middle-aged and above is not so nice. First it was the WWII generation, then the Korean War one. Now it’s boomers. AARP wants laws to benefit just their members, even if that comes at the expense of those my kids’ ages. That doesn’t seem very grandfatherly or avuncular.

However, the magazine will probably drive us to join. We’d each like to do more freelance writing and the magazine is among the biggest-circulation and highest paying. We just want the other spouse to have the AARP card. When I got my first envelope from AARP, I snorted and joined the New England Mountain Bike Association instead that day.

The organization is pretty savvy about its image too.  A few years ago, it waved its flack magic on American Association of Retired Persons everywhere. Now, it’s the ambiguous and benign looking AARP. That retired carried a lot of baggage, particularly for us boomers, who pretend we are either immortal or at least that 60 is the new 25.

Likewise, the magazine is no longer Modern Maturity. The contents are the same, but it is AARP The Magazine. No old people here…

The org wants a high brain and mouth count as well. They keep membership low — $8 a year for a five-year affiliation.

The mag is surely worth that, both on its own and as research for selling it articles. Damn.

I got an offer yesterday. I may have been tagged it.

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