pop go the bullet points

Soundtrack in my head:  The Church, “Tantalized” 

bullet, gold, gun, bullet points

Skitterphoto (CC0), Pixabay

I’ve looked back at my first four entries in this journal and realize that I can be quite wordy.  Which makes sense because that’s how I speak as well.  I tend to paint pictures with my words, leaving no corner of the canvas untouched.  Over the course of many years, I’ve discovered that my speaking style produces two possible reactions in people 1) intrigued interest, or  2) a desire to tear the eyeballs out of one’s own head.  There seems to be no in-between. People in the latter category want bullet points.

Some of my speaking style comes from the fact that I have a little problem with word retrieval.  The perfect word doesn’t always come out right away, so I start to paint a little picture. Sort of like charades or Pictionary.

In some ways, it’s probably good that the perfect words don’t come right away.  Somewhere in a parallel universe, there is a storehouse of witty comebacks and withering replies that came to me five minutes too late.  I can almost imagine God grabbing hold of my tongues and saying, “Trust me on this one.  You’ll thank me later.”

Once, during a co-op house meeting, a housemate calculated the average length of time it for each house member to speak.  She then wrote the results in our house journal. (Many co-ops have a large blank book where people can write pretty much anything they want, but will often talk about house-related issues.) and next to each of our names, she recorded the results and left a blank space for each of us to comment.  I was the second-longest speaker.  Unrepentant, I wrote, “I want to be paid by the word.”

I understand the value of brevity, I can turn that skill on when I have to. Okay not always. Um, maybe a lot less than always. But sometimes I’d rather spit out teeth than speak in bullet points.  Garrison Keillor in his Prairie Home Companion show once made a joke about the “James Joyce School of Business Memo Writing.”  I’d be their star professor.  Think about it this way–bullet points are a recent phenomenon in the English language which is why they’re not called arrow points or spear points.  If bullet points were a natural part of the spoken English language, people would make popping noises before every point made.

I’m not knocking clarity in writing-. I’ve written enough business memos, fundraising letters and grants to know what will be the most effective in getting my point across to other people.  It’s just that in this age of information overload and packed calendars and people who have to pick up the kids from volleyball practice at 6 p.m., many people are intolerant of anything but the straight facts in the most distilled form possible.  That’s fine, but I think communication begins to lose a bit of character when that happens too much, and our world becomes more dull and colorless.

*              *             *

This past Monday, December 26th marked three years since I first moved to Madison, after spending most of my life in Chicago.  I started out as a part-time resident here and became a full-time resident a month later.  I’ll tell the story sometime…

But the other significant milestone happened this past Christmas Day, in that our family celebrated its last Christmas in Chicago.  My parents just bought a house in Albuquerque, NM and will be moving there this summer.  This is kind of a huge milestone because the center of my family’s universe has been Chicago for a few generations.  Both of my grandmothers grew up on the South Side, my grandfather moved up there from Mississippi in the 1930’s, and we have many second and third cousins in the area.  But one by one, my family started evacuating the area, to the Detroit area, to Madison, to, um, the next world.  And now Albuquerque.  Only my sister and a few cousins will remain in Chicago.  I like Albuquerque, it’s like a second home to me.  But Madison’s my first home right now.  After three years, I can definitely say that I feel at home here.

christmas decorations and “deck the stalls”

Soundtrack in my head:  Point of Grace, “Carol of the Bells/What Child Is This?” 

ozarks, missouri, winter, christmas decorations

12019 (CC0), Pixabay

Even before I moved to Wisconsin, I’d always kept in my mind this image of a nighttime aerial view of Wisconsin’s hills stretching out as far as the eye could see, sleeping peacefully under a blanket of snow and dotted with the lights of scattered dwellings and Chriistmas decorations here and there.


The road to Madison

Earlier this month as I was driving back home from Chicago, the beauty of the landscape struck me.  Just north of Janesville, Interstate 39/90 starts to cut northwest towards Madison, and the terrain becomes quite hilly and begins to look a lot like this pastoral picture postcard in my head. As I was driving north that one evening, the snow-covered hills were glowing under the moonlight, and here and there I could see farm houses and small developments lit up by Christmas lights. The landscape perfectly complemented this folk Christmas CD I was listening to that was getting me in the mood for the season.

The pastoral scene was interrupted by Madison’s Beltline Highway which cuts a wide and busy path along the southern edge of the city. But when I exited the Beltline at John Nolen Drive and saw the Christmas lights display along Olin Turville Park, I decided to maintain my Christmas spirit by taking a little driving tour of the displays. Each year, a local union puts up these displays along a curvy park road that people drive through, admiring the decorations from the comfort of their cars.  Local businesses sponsor these Christmas light sculptures ranging in size from six to fifteen feet in height, and one can see images of Santa, Christmas trees, and yes, even football helmets of the University of Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers.

winter, cars, parking, christmas decorations

ShekuSheriff (CC0), Pixabay

Ugly Christmas decorations

These decorations are a nice contrast to a different sort of Christmas decoration I used to see when I lived in Chicago. After heavy snowfalls, Chicagoans have had this tradition of decorating the streets with orange cones, folding chairs, broomsticks, and other implements of obstruction designed to keep others from taking the on-street parking space they just shoveled. Where I used to live in Chicago, there were barely enough parking spaces to accommodate the cars in the neighborhood. So, when people staked their private claims on a public parking space, they rendered many of the spaces unusable for many hours per day, thus reducing the number of available parking spaces in the neighborhood and making it hard for the rest of the neighbors. I kept hoping that Chicago’s mayor would take the high ground and ask Chicagoans to stop staking private claims on public property, but instead, Mayor Richard M. Daley referred to this practice as a “time-honored Chicago tradition.” I think that’s one reason why I live in Wisconsin now.

I prefer a different time-honored tradition: In December 2000, Chicago was hit with some twenty inches of snow or so in the space of one week. During the second snowfall, about a week before Christmas, the snow was so bad that it took me 1 1/2; hours to drive just six miles back to my neighborhood, a drive that would normally take thirty minutes.

When I got to my block, almost all the parking spaces were open, since I’d gotten home well before rush hour, but the spaces were not accessible because the while the middle of the street was drivable, the snow in the parking spaces was already too deep to drive through. Luckily, I found a spot that someone had cleared near the end of the block. However, as I was walking to my apartment, I noticed that my neighbors weren’t quite so lucky—many were wandering around in their cars because there was no place to park.

Cooperate, not compete

I’m normally not that altruistic of a person, but I could see just how chaotic things were about to get with rush hour approaching, so I grabbed my shovel and started digging a spot in front of my building. Within 20 minutes I had a new space freshly cleared and I began working on the space next to it. Many cars looking for spaces passed me by—no one seemed to even consider that I might be digging out a space for them. At one point, I tried to get the attention of some friends of mine who lived below me who were driving by, but they couldn’t see me. Finally, two young women from the building across the alley from me pulled in, grateful and somewhat incredulous that someone would just clear spaces for people like that.

Two older Latina women who lived two stories directly below me pulled into the next space I dug out. I never really knew them, but would often exchange hellos with them in the hallway. But within a few minutes they were back outside, bundled up and ready to help with their own shovels. One of them was about a foot shorter than me, and I could barely see her under her winter clothing—it was mostly coat and scarf and hat and shovel.

This cooperative mindset seemed to spreading like a virus now at my end of the block. We cleared another space and a tall guy with short red hair pulled in. I seemed to recognize him as someone who had helped push out some people who were stuck the day before. In fact, he casually mentioned that he helped someone else dig out their car and pointed to the car he helped dig out. It was my sister’s, who lived in the same building as me.

After a couple of hours of this and clearing about a fifth of the block, we thanked each other and went back inside. I had an unusually warm feeling my heart as I watched the snow tumble down to the ground from the comfort of my apartment. I knew that what we were doing was really how people were meant to interact in the city and elsewhere, and it felt good to create that better world in our little corner of the city, even if it was just for a couple of hours.

It’s been five years since that little shoveling party. I now live in Madison, Wisconsin in a co-op house with the goal of making community living and cooperation a way of life. It’s not necessarily that much easier to foster cooperation here. But as I begin to take my lifestyle for granted, this little story reminds me of why I’ve made the choices that I made, and that a better world is a bit closer than we might think sometimes.

Epilogue: A couple of days after our shoveling party in December 2000, I got word that 4-8 more inches of more snow was expected. I had to move my car because it was parked on a main street, which was a snow route during snowfall and it had to be moved aside for the plows. I was worried about being able to find another spot because despite our little shoveling party, there were still many people jealously guarding the parking spots they dug out.  But to my amazement, I found an open spot right in front of my building. It was the first one I had dug out a couple of days before…

new blog: how do you drive this thing?

Soundtrack in my head:  The Pretenders, “2000 Miles”

alien, smiley, monster, new blog

Clker-Free-Vector-Images (CC0), Pixabay

I’m still in edit mode with this new toy called a new blog.

I selected Squarespace.com to post this website because it looked like it would give me the flexibility to design the site the way I want.  Well, that may ultimately be true, but right now I feel like I’ve hijacked an alien spaceship and am not quite sure what the controls of this thing does. At least my banner turned out okay–first little victory.  As I try to figure out what buttons do what, I ask myself:  okay, now I’m actually supposed to do something creative with this?  I think the aliens are laughing at me.