How I Learned to Move my Energy

Some years ago I attended an art therapy class at Callanish. The theme was “Loving, Kindness, and Forgiveness.” Each week, we dutifully showed up. I was never sure what to expect. Nor was I ever prepared for what happened. The sessions started out the same. We shared a small update about our lives. Then we moved straight into a guided meditation on the theme. After, we headed into the art room.

The art room felt inspiring. It was white, bright, and airy feeling. Yet, never felt clinical or like obligatory therapy. Shelves lined the walls with an assortment of craft supplies. You could knit, paint, work with clay, paper, or fabric. The possibilities were endless.

I recall one particularly hard day. One of the participants shared some heavy news with the group. A cancer recurrence. She didn’t know how to tell her kids. After meditating, we moved silently, with purpose into the art room. That day I selected two shallow boxes of different sizes to paint. I still have them.

At the end of the session, we shared our work. The participant with the hard news started crying. With a shrug of her shoulders she explained she hadn’t done much. She said all she did was put blobs of color on the paper. And that she wasn’t even sure what she was doing.

One of the facilitators looked at her kindly and said it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that she kept her energy moving. Though I didn’t realize at the time, it’s a life lesson I still carry with me over fourteen years later. When I go through a difficult patch, or feel stuck, I focus on keeping my energy moving.

The first time I blogged about this theme the message was concrete and formulaic. In reality, getting going again, or unsticking one’s energy can be a feat. And to keep the energy moving, once unstuck, can feel equally daunting. However, I always find myself going back to that one art therapy session. Some days, blobs of color on a page is good enough to do the trick.

A (somewhat) Promising Customer Service Experience

Last week I had a minor fender bender. Importantly, nobody was hurt. As the other car owner wisely said, it’s just metal and we can fix that.

I haven’t been in any kind of a car accident since the 1990’s. At that time, I wasn’t driving the car, but it was my car. I don’t recall the claims process. However, I’m sure it involved a lot of phone calls and forms (filled out in quadruplicate), and trips to the autobody shop. This time around, the experience has been completely different.

The process started with me calling the insurance company. After that, I moved to my phone to finish the claim. It was easy to downloading the app. Continuing the claim was quick. I was impressed!

I opened the app. Immediately, I saw a prompt for the claim. The instructions were clear and easy to follow. First, I submitted nine sets of photos. Each set had written instructions. It also included a diagram to illustrate exactly what to photograph and how (e.g., up close, wide lens, etc.). Despite the circumstances, I found myself oddly optimistic about this streamlined and seemingly efficient process. It was one of the first times I can remember going through a process designed around using a smartphone.

Then it didn’t live up to expectations. Around the same time I was uploading the photos, the recommended autobody shop called to follow up. Apparently, they had received the claim, but no photos! I called them to explain I had just uploaded the photos. They told me to wait a couple of business days before checking in again.

I called over 2 business days later and they still haven’t received my photos. At this point, I had to call the insurance company again to try and sort out where the photos went, my hopes and dreams for a streamlined, easy, and efficient process crushed, like my bumper. 🙁

I’m still waiting to see if the photos I uploaded make it to the autobody shop. Otherwise I’ll have to revert back to the old process and go in person for an estimate. That would be a shame.

Imagining a World without Email

This summer we acquired a summer student to help us devise modern solutions for our service inbox. Each day, the service inbox for our department receives dozens of emails on a variety of issues. Some requests are easily resolved, while others take days to answer. Some requests are urgent and time-consuming. These ones go straight to the top of the priority line, delaying others already in the queue. All this to say, it’s a big job to stay on top of all these emails, while also keeping up with other tasks.

The goal of the student is to identify our pain points and come up with options to address the challenges. To date, we’ve been through several rounds of interviews. It’s been illuminating to see all the problems distilled into colorful rows of electronic sticky notes on our virtual blackboard. The student uses big red dots to identify the most problematic ones. There are a lot of dots.

However, one thing of interest to me is that our student doesn’t even use email! Of course she uses it occasionally, but it’s not her primary mode of communication. The concept of existing without email seems foreign, yet attainable, when I start to think about better ways to manage our requests. One of my main goals is to eliminate email requests completely by using a ticketing system instead. This would require users to submit requests through a different kind of system that would allow us to track requests more effectively.

Another pain point is our current “tracking” system. We manually track everything by counting emails. It’s hideous, time-consuming, and not that accurate. We do this because the inbox doesn’t offer us a meaningful way to report on the emails.

One question our student posed during interviews required us to consider which emails had to remain as emails. After some thought, we came up with a few examples. This was mostly for communications we have with external parties, such as vendors, or professional organizations.

In discussing this further with a work colleague, also of the same generation as me, we started thinking about why we rely on email so much in our personal lives. I’m not proposing a ticketing system to manage my personal life, but maybe better alternatives are available.

Digital Dragnet Dangers

Overturning Roe v. Wade has a greater impact than I even first realized. Since the decision became official about a week ago, I’ve been seeing a lot of articles discussing the digital side of things. For example, the kinds of apps women use to track their reproductive health issues and location data, are coming under question. Now that abortion is illegal in many areas, there is a concern that data collected on women may be incriminating. This will likely include data that women input in various apps to track their health.

The first time I blogged about a period tracking app, it was in the context of self care. Lots of people love being able to track what’s going on in their bodies. Over the years I’ve tracked lots of things about my body, health, and habits manually. It’s tedious! I can understand the appeal of having apps available to do some of the “heavy lifting.” Being able to analyze patterns and notice trends is a real benefit to tracking. However, I never use self-care apps. I’ve always been nervous about the privacy and protection of the data. Another concern is who might unknowingly access or share the data.

Recently, I’ve read many articles about whether or not women should delete their period tracking apps. The concern is that in places where abortions are illegal, data from these apps could be used. It could be used as evidence about the status of, and activities related to, a women’s reproductive health. For example, is a missed period evidence of a pregnancy, another health issue, or human error? Combining this data with location tracking yields more details about a woman’s activities (e.g., missed period combined with trips to a Planned Parenthood). Even anonymizing the data isn’t enough. There are still ways to discover who it’s about.

Google has decided that they will delete location tracking history for visits to abortion clinics, along with a few other health-related locations. The question I have about this, is why collect it in the first place? Or why not create apps that protect the privacy and data of its users more effectively?

Disposable Culture

Through a coordinated effort, several families on my street all participated in a giant tag sale. As we walked from sale to sale, I couldn’t stop thinking how hard it is to get rid of stuff. At one table, I purchased a giant tub of arts & crafts supplies for $3. It contained three pairs of scissors that cut in different patterns, bags of sequins, stickers, and packages filled with random shapes in a variety of colors. I’m sure all of this cost more than $3. But for now, the cost to get rid of it for something more than “free” was a few bucks.

Though I didn’t need these new art supplies, I can definitely use them. In fact, I’m looking forward to busting out the glue and poster board to start crafting. However, I did have a moment where I considered how I would offload these supplies, if, like many other “inspired” projects, I never actually used them.

In today’s disposable culture, it’s easy to acquire too much, all in pursuit of things we “need.” Much of the time, the stuff is poorly made and breaks easily. When things break I’m often in a dilemma. It’s almost always less expensive to buy something new than to repair the broken thing. Yet, it feels wasteful for me to throw things out in the garbage rather than try to fix them.

For example, I purchased a vegan leather purse a few years ago. I took it out of the closet for the first time a couple months ago and it looked horrible. The “leather” started to deteriorate and flake off.

I’ve had several people tell me to just throw it out. It does look awful, but other than the appearance, it’s a perfectly functional bag. The size is great, it’s got a nice flat bottom, sturdy zippers, and a nice interior. I did actually research how to fix vegan leather before deciding it was a lost cause. Too much effort. So, the bag will end up in the trash bin, unfortunately.

Part of what feels strange to me is we keep accumulating stuff, which nobody ends up wanting, including ourselves. Then it becomes a mission to get rid of it, if you don’t want to just throw it all in the garbage. Yet, with digital formats, we’re also encouraged to accumulate stuff, but then we end up keeping all of it.

Unexpected Triggers

The Modern Love podcast opened up the new season with an essay called “One Man’s Trash.” The author of the essay describes an event that acted as an unexpected trigger of his dead partner’s memory. The result was a long, cathartic sob, followed by release.

Rather than unexpected triggers, June typically offers me nothing other than expected triggers. June is a memory landmine month. This year marks 19 years since my father and grandfather died. My father’s birthday is in early June. Then father’s day. Then my grandfather’s deathday. The following day is my father’s. Some years, Father’s Day is on the same day as one of the deathdays. I’m not sure if having everything compounded on the same day makes it harder or easier.

Hearing this podcast in the early days of June made me think of some triggers. While I don’t often experience those raw, heart wrenching, painful yearnings anymore, something new is developing. Sometimes the unexpected triggers result in something pleasurable, almost as though my father is sending me a small hug, a pat on the back, a wink, or even one of his infectious guffaws. This last one is mostly reserved when I hear something that would have resonated with his specific “nerd humor.”

Recently I experienced two of these familiar, loving triggers. On a whim I decided to try out a doughnut shop I recently discovered. I’m not much of a doughnut person. When I do get a doughnut, I usually go for a plain chocolate one. Or maybe a chocolate one with something sprinkled on it. However, this time, I instantly ordered the equivalent of a Boston Cream doughnut. I didn’t even see the other offerings, but knew I had to get this one. Of course in Canada the doughnut has another name without “Boston” in it, but it was basically the same thing. More importantly, my father’s favorite flavor, something I learned after he died.

Earlier in the month, while visiting a friend, I noticed a dime on the ground. Without hesitating I bent over to pick it up. At the same instant I remember thinking, “still healthy enough to pick up loose change.” Then I chuckled. My father always picked up loose change, something I’m sure he would still be doing even though nobody has used cash in the last two years. It made that dime worth more than ten cents.