Monday, July 24, 2017

Conference Call Bingo

Much of my life at work involves conference calls.  They are a necessary evil of the nature of the virtual team.  And, because of who I am, I have to take any opportunity to poke fun.

So last week, I copied a hand-drawn version of a Conference Call Bingo card, and passed out copies for a looooooong meeting that I was expected to participate in.

The results were hilarious.  People in the room were listening more closely than they ever had, in hopes of hearing one of the critical phrases.  Most participants also joined in by inserting one of the phrases into their own briefings.  ""Can you email that to everyone?"  "I'll have to circle back with you about that."  "Sorry, I was on mute."

After the call was over, I shared the card with other teams that I am on, partly for the humor of it, but also to emphasize how often we slip into bureauspeak.  A little reminder to all of us to speak like humans, instead of like the technocrats that we inevitably become.

Today, a group with whom I had shared the card held a call, and I had chuckled to myself as one by one I heard the old, familiar phrases come through.  Three "Sorry, Go Ahead"'s later, we were at the conclusion of the call.  Good information, good group of people, working hard to make sure that we communicate things well.  

Even so, I am a little flippant about it.  

The last item on the agenda was a round-robin discussion of what was going on in each of our areas. Four people talked about the projects where they were working on collaborative efforts in their region.  I followed with my own.

The woman online after me came on, and had a lot of emotion in her voice.

"I know that I am being asked to share what is going on in my district.  But there has always been a very family-like atmosphere within this group, and so I have to take a second to share something personal.

"As most of you know, my 10-1/2 year-old son was diagnosed with cancer when he was 6 months old. And we have been doing all of the things we are supposed to, and it has been a long process.

"We came from the oncologist's office five minutes before this call, and he just told us that we don't have to come back ever again.  My son is free of cancer, and I had to tell everyone.  I can't go thirty seconds without breaking into tears.... I am just so happy."

And all of a sudden, all of the topics we had discussed, all of the progress we had made, all of the plans we had shared, every bit of it went out of the window.  Time stopped as we shared in the joy of what Lynn had announced.  The next thirty seconds was a cacaphony of family members joining in shouting their excitement at the news.  

You know what?  Sometimes, it is important to take a beat and celebrate the amazing things that happen in life.  To breathe deeply and love on one another, reveling in their victories when they occur.  Taking that moment to really connect, and screaming out a yell when it is the right moment. 

That beat, that breath, that connection, is worth every moment that I put up with on every call - every buzzword, every sonorous recitation of unreadable spreadsheet data.  Because in that moment, I am suddenly part of the family. 

So I will be the first to call it out for Lynn:


Friday, July 21, 2017

Finding Your Bees

I went out for a walk (OK, it was my once-a-week smoke break) during my lunch hour yesterday.  Across the street from my office is a seedy, no-name motel - the kind of place that you seldom notice.  It is typical 1960s motel architecture: run down, no shade, with little-to-no green space, located in the middle of a downtown area.  Parking lot to one side, now-defunct bank on the other.  Not the most welcoming of places.

Testing the theory that stolen food tastes better
A year ago, I spotted a volunteer eggplant in the patch of grass next to the street.  On my walk this week, I wandered over to see if the volunteer had re-volunteered another generation of plants.

Sure enough, near the original spot, there was a big, green plant.  I lifted the canopy of leaves to find a host of small, beautiful, lavender eggplants.

I smiled, and picked one, slipping it into my pocket, while marveling at how wonderful nature was, to volunteer plants where there was once just a patch of weedy ground and a discarded eggplant.

Yeah, I don't know who discards eggplants, either.  That is to say, I don't know of anyone who discards raw eggplants in weedy lots.  I know plenty of people who discard cooked eggplant, and when I was a kid, I was responsible for some such discards when Mom was not looking.  But I don't think that kind of discard results in many volunteers.

But I digress.

Not much space.  Not much green.
The eggplant bush was in a tiny grassy area.  I looked around, and there were a bunch of weeds along the opposite edge of the parking lot, interspersed with decorative plants.  The nearest of the weeds, though, looked an awful lot like a pepper plant.

Dang.  Sure enough, it WAS a pepper plant.

A little further down, another pepper.  And another.  Twelve plants, interspersed in with the ornamentals. On a narrow strip of ground between the parking lot and the grungy parking garage of a sad motel.

Basil, too.  And mint.  And lemongrass.  Suddenly, I am seeing that this is not a volunteer location.

Instead, I had just raided someone's garden.  In a motel parking lot.  I looked around for the inevitable cameras that recorded my petty theft.

And then shrugged, with full smile on my face.  Someone had taken a crappy little corner of the universe and made it theirs.  They had found a way to bring something positive out of the peeling paint and auto-exhaust begrimed surfaces, and brought forth life for their table.

I love that idea.

A friend likened it to my hunt for bees.  For most people, having an infestation of stinging insects is not something to meet with joy.  But everywhere I go, I always keep an eye out for any bees, anywhere, especially hives that I could steal, bring to my house, and give them a new home.  My friend challenged me to write about it.

So the "Finding Your Bees" series is dedicated to everyone who has taken something that is overlooked and made it into something wonderful.  And I ask for you to share it with me - either in the comments or in email form.  Examples can include:
New Orleans Container House....
  • Artists who make things with found objects 
  • Repurposing artists (my brother Parker is a master at this!)
  • Guerrilla Gardeners - who tame abandoned lots and make them into community gardens
  • People who build houses out of shipping containers (not as novel now, but somebody did the first one not so long ago)
  • Scientists who are working at re-introducing lost seeds to farmers
  • Archaeologists who are introducing old techniques to help improve the lives of modern folk 
  • Linguists who are working to revitalize languages in indigenous communities
  • Brewmasters who re-introduce old recipes, based on either historic data or archaeological evidence
  • Someone who figured out what to do with kudzu (or nutria, or water hyacinth, or Asian carp, or...)
  • Someone who makes musical instruments out of unusual stuff, or that make sounds that are unexpected (left handed sewer-flutists like Michelle Bowe need apply!)
If you know of a Johnny Appleseed character, group, or collective, let me know about it.  Or if you are doing something where you are taming - or wilding - a piece of the world in a novel way, I want to hear the story.  

Non-profits and other programs are fair game.  My sister pointed me to a news story that talked about writers who were invited to move to areas of Detroit that were hit hard by the economic downturn - with the idea that creative folk can lift up a neighborhood (see the story at

The world is an amazing place, filled with incredible people.  I love it when people see things in a different way than usual, and see possibility when the rest of the world sees none.  It is almost like they are giving the world the gift of a visual pun.

Tell me yours.

Saturday, July 15, 2017


"Crap.  They did it again."

I looked up, knowing that I was about to go from a good mood to a bad one.  Kathe was scowling at her phone.  "AT&T is charging me another $15 for going over the data limit.  I have not used anything since the last time they charged me.  This is now 3 times this month that they added $15 to my charge."

There's a bad mood on the rise.

Kathe has made five trips out to AT&T store, each time having the tech look and see if they can identify what is making her churn through the data.  She has turned off all of the usual suspects: FB, maps, anything that identifies where she is, basically all apps.  When we are at home, she uses the wi-fi, and essentially uses the data only when she suspects that a weather system might impact travel, while we are on the road.

She no longer listens to music.  She no longer watches videos.  She does not access maps, or download emails that are more than a line or two.  She uses her phone as a phone.  And she sends texts, which sometimes get delivered as much as three days later.

When she speaks to the folks at the store, they could not help.  Essentially, every single response she has gotten from AT&T was a shrug.  We can sell you a different plan.

Problem is, the plan would tie us to AT&T for another two years.  Not exactly a consummation devoutly to be wisht.  We've looked at the plans that offer to buy us out, and I have come to the conclusion that the cellular age just doesn't suit us so well.
Anybody interested in joining me in the neolithic?  I have a stone hatchet and a stone hoe I can trade you for some corn...

I tweeted my complaint, using the hashtag #classaction.  It got immediate attention.  Over the next two days, analysts analyzed, and techies teched, and there was a flurry of communication that ensued.  The end result was that I received 18 bucks.  

No explanation of how the overage happened.  No promise that it would not happen again.  Nothing like that.  Just $18.  

So now I will sit and wait for it to happen again, and hope for another flurry of messages when I next get mad.  Or, as I am sure that AT&T hopes for, I will decide that it is just not worth my time.  And that I will pay the money or change my plan.  Either way, problem solved!

Unless the problem is an unhappy customer.  In which case, problem not solved at all.