2016 Word – Hustle

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

In the early part of 2016, I used One Word to frame the year and my intentions. The word that chose me was “hustle” after I’d done Jon Acuff’s “30 Days of Hustle” in January. Although I’d initially picked something else as my word, it became apparent that was to be my word this year. I can’t say I was too thrilled with it and I didn’t quite warm up to it until this fall.

I didn’t want to hustle anymore. I wanted down time, time with family and friends, time to have more fun, and to not be constantly striving.

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Missing: A Personality

20160301-366 Water Color 4 Blog
Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in March

I seem to have lost my personality recently.

My “part-time” job has been fairly high stress due to some turnover and I’ve been working a lot of hours to transition, streamline, and meet tax due dates. I’ll get those hours back, but not for a while.

If you want to discuss Excel functions and formulas, downloads from the general ledger, and strengthening the accounting around the tax filings, I’m your man! Or person, as it would be.

But if you want to discuss what I’m reading lately (all the  J.D. Robb’s starting with the first one), what television shows I’m watching (reruns of Numb3rs), and what hobbies I’ve been enjoying (none), forget about it.

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Time For A New Story

Isn't he just handsome? Even if he is a bit impatient with me taking his picture.
Isn’t my husband just handsome? Even if he is a bit impatient with me taking his picture.

As May drew to a close, it became apparent to me that I needed to tell myself a new story. I need a story that doesn’t involve the workplace, doing taxes, being a CPA, or any of the other ways that I’ve defined myself for these many, many years.

I’m proud of my career accomplishments and the hard work I’ve put into being the best I can, becoming an authority in my field, and being a recognized name “out there”. I’ve dedicated myself to learning all I could about corporate state income taxes, showing up when I was needed, being a diligent employee and mentoring those around me.

But that time has come to an end. For the rest of this year, I am on sabbatical and planning what I want to do with my writing and photography as well as seeing that new grandson of mine.

Yes, that is a cannonball in the bricks
Yes, that is a cannonball in the bricks in Yorktown, Virginia

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Seeking Closure

Train on Brown's Island, Richmond, Virginia
Train Cars on Brown’s Island, Richmond, Virginia; Stylized With Various Topaz Filters Including Grunge Desaturated

My employer (well, former employer) has had a number of layoffs over the years.  People just mysteriously disappeared.  People that I worked with, laughed with, and got to know.

It always bothered me that they just vanished without me even being able to say goodbye, I’ll miss you, and I appreciated the help you gave me.

Now it’s the other way around.  When I left last Wednesday, there was no opportunity to walk around and say goodbye, to thank people for making my job easier, and express appreciation that they were there for me these last seven years.

So instead of ramping up a job search, I spent my time last weekend saying goodbye.  I wrote e-mails to co-workers.  I wrote e-mails to several of those left behind, reminding them of things they asked me for and would likely need during year end.   I wrote my consultants to let them know I was gone and hoped to work with them again some other time.  I didn’t get around to everyone, but I got enough done that the urge for closure is mostly satisfied.

I know that for my former co-workers, life goes on as they know it.  It will be harder because of all of us who are gone, but in the end, things will be the same for them.  They will come in to the same office, see the same people, eat the same lunches.

But I had to say goodbye.  I couldn’t just leave.  People were important to me and I wanted them to know that.  To know that I will miss them.

Because until I told them that, I couldn’t move on.  And now I can.

[Changing topics] The day after I was laid off, I went downtown with my camera to capture Brown’s Island during the morning light.  The shoot didn’t quite go as I expected, but it did serve to distract me from what happened the day before.  The picture above is one of the ones that I took.  The trees were too far gone to be pretty, but the train standing still was something I’d not shot before.  It really appealed to me to stylize it with various Topaz filters, but below is how the original looked in case you were wondering!

Train Cars on Brown's Island in Richmond, Virginia, with minimal post processing.
Train Cars on Brown’s Island in Richmond, Virginia, with minimal post processing.

Naming My Emotions

Walking with my Vizsla
Walking with my Vizsla

I was laid off on Wednesday.  Outsourced.  Bye-bye.  7 years of my life over just like that for myself and my entire team, all of whom had been with me for over 5 years.

Whew!  There.  I finally told it.

My former employer left me in good shape, so I have time to thoughtfully look for another job, for which I’m glad.  But I’m also upset for all the hard work and effort I’ve put in.  I expect that in a very short time, all of that will be gone.  Outsourcers tend to use the cheapest labor they can find, which does not equate to experienced.

Each morning I’ve woken up with a different set of emotions about this whole chain of events.

Thursday I was elated.  Free time!  Time to do what I want!  No year end!  I can enjoy the holidays instead of working late most nights in December!!  I made lists and lists of all the things I want to get done while I’m out of work.  Five pages of lists in fact – I have a lot of catching up to do with my life.

Friday morning though found me sad.  I went back after hours on Thursday to clean out my desk and it was hard.  My favorite boy toy was with me to help out and the HR rep was compassionate about the whole thing.  She was (thankfully) someone I’ve known almost since my first day there.  I was glad for that and glad for her understanding, but it was still hard.  All those years reduced to a few boxes.  Packing up my desk was as upsetting as being told to leave.  I was also sad that I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to people.  I had a lot of good friends at work and there was no closure.

Saturday was fear.  Fear of the unknown.  What’s going to happen now?  Will we have to move again?  I don’t want to move.  Are there jobs out there?  What will I do?

Sunday was fear again, but a different type.  I don’t want a bad boss – I’ve had several in my career and they really wreck one’s life.  I don’t want a ball busting job.  I want a better work / life balance, something I’ve had very little of with my last few jobs.  And I don’t feel like cleaning up yet another mess.  I’ve cleaned up too many of them in my career.  It’s no fun and there’s no glory in it, as no one wants to admit things were so bad before I came.  In fact, the job that I just left had been outsourced for two years before I came and the files and positions were non-existent, along with numerous errors that took me years to clean up.

I don’t know what my new routine will be yet.  The Vizsla is getting a long walk every day.  He’s gotten excessively clingy again and keeping him tired means we don’t have a dog jumping the gates at 2 am to come visiting, which he did Thursday night.  It took several hours and numerous tries to convince him that he was staying downstairs and not in our bed.  Thankfully the beagle slept through most of it and I didn’t have to contend with two of them refusing to go back downstairs!

I’m drinking more tea.  I sit at the kitchen table, looking out the windows and enjoying being quiet as I sip it.  Sometimes I read, sometimes I just daydream.  It’s nice to be able to leave my brain off even if for just a few minutes.

I’m finding a nap each afternoon to be good for me.  It doesn’t matter if I’m not sleeping as well as I should if I can make it up later.

I’ve gone back to taking daily pictures.  I enjoy it and it records my life for me even if they aren’t high art.  The silhouette above was taken with my cell phone during our walk at the woods.  I look like a lump in my winter coat (it’s been that cold here!) but I liked the way my grey muzzled puppy was looking at me.  That stick in my hand is actually a retractable leash.  His recall isn’t the best, especially if we walk past another dog, so I keep him tethered to me like the park requires.

After Thanksgiving, I’ll be contacting people and start the process to find another job.  For this week, I plan to enjoy time with my family.  My daughter says she finally looks pregnant, so I hope to get some baby bump pictures to show everyone.


Working A Day Job – Part 3

Looking to the east in Richmond, Virginia
Looking to the east in Richmond, Virginia

It comes the very moment you wake up each morning.
All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.
And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back;
in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view,
letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.
And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings
and frettings; coming in out of the wind.
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I certainly do not exist from nine to six, when I am at the office.
― Wallace Stevens

Today, I am finishing my series on how my day job nurtures my creativity.  Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

Balancing Work, Family and Creativity

There are times work consumes my life, other times it is family at the front.  Creativity hovers around the edges of my week day life and tends to get the leftovers from me late in the evening.  I have to be careful to nurture my creativity, to focus on it and it alone for at least a short period each day.  That’s easy to say, harder to actually do.

Lately, I read more and more that it is impossible to balance one’s work and personal life and not even desirable.  I disagree.  We need to be passionate about what we’re doing at work, but so often it seem family and creativity lose out in that scheme.  I use routines to help me get things done quicker and I try to remain aware if I’m spending too much time with one thing or another.

Each day though, is a balancing act to keep work, family, and creativity in balance and I cannot nurture my creativity when my life is consumed with one to the exclusion of the others.  So when I’m working a lot of overtime, my creativity will suffer.  Overtime doesn’t go on forever, but I need to plan ahead of things I can do anyhow or accept that my creativity will be on hold for a while.  Sometimes I’ll spend 30 minutes a night editing photos or listening to a course on lynda.com.  One year end, I took my camera and tripod and did night shots from the window of a conference room while everyone else was eating supper.  The photos in this post are from that night.

9th Street over the James River in Richmond, Virginia
9th Street over the James River in Richmond, Virginia

Wallace Stevens

In both Part 1 and Part 2, I used quotes from Wallace Stevens.  What really caught my attention in Daily Ritual: How Artists Work by Mason Curry, was that Wallace Stevens worked a full-time job practicing insurance law.  Stevens wrote poetry as he walked to and from work, jotted notes all day long and walked for another hour during lunch.  I was envious that he could arrange his job around his poetry!  Yes, times were different in the 1930’s to 1950’s than they are today in that regular hours were kept and when you went home, you were home without further interruptions.  But still, being a lawyer at anytime is a challenging profession with many demands.

Stevens also was not immune to the conflict of balancing his personal life and creativity.  The Poetry Foundation, in its biography of Stevens, notes that following the birth of his daughter, there were nine years of “unproductivity”, and Stevens “found that parenting thwarted writing”.

I laughed at that.  Parenting, as rewarding as it is, does thwart creativity.  There are simply too many things to do, too  much fatigue, and too many demands when children are little.  So while he didn’t find his job to be limiting to his poetry, apparently fatherhood was.

BB&T Building (corner of Byrd & 10th Street) in Richmond, Virginia
BB&T Building (corners of Byrd, 9th & 10th Street) in Richmond, Virginia


Today, work weeks are much longer and the stress is much more intense.  I can sympathize with Wallace’s quote that his life ceases to exist during the workday.  It does, but as my other two posts discussed, there are also benefits for it.

Mason Curry, whose book Daily Ritual: How Artists Work started this train of thought, had a great article on-line with Slate.  He talks how having too much to do is a motivator, encouraging him to buckle down and get things done.  He shares how Toni Morrison worked full-time as an editor.  She was also a single parent, raising two boys.  She attributed her productivity to not doing anything else in her life except write after tending to her responsibilities.  Other authors are discussed as well, with how they did or did not work around their day job.

My job both decreases my creative productivity and makes my creativity easier.  I don’t have the time to devote to it that I’d like, but I have opportunities that I wouldn’t have otherwise, from business travel that lets me explore new areas to learning technology to keeping balance and prioritizing my time wisely.

There is no one single answer, but since this is how my life is for now, I remain focused on how having a day job nurtures my creativity and work with it.  I’m happier if I can balance between work and family, if I’m grateful for what I have instead of what I don’t have, and I try (as best as I can) to be open to all the possibilities I have at work and at home.

Click here to see my additional thoughts on balancing my life.

To see everything I’m doing with my 31 Days of Nurturing My Creativity, click here.

To see what others are doing with their 31 Days project, click here.


Working a Day Job – Part 2

Gazebo at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, taken earlier this year.  The sky really was that blue that day!
Gazebo at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, taken earlier this year. The sky really was that blue that day!

Yesterday, I began a discussion on how working a day job nurtures my creativity.  Today, I want to explore more of this:

Exposure to New Technology

My day job uses technology nearly all day long, from complex tax software to Microsoft Office and other specialty pieces of software.  There’s usually very little training for this – my co-workers and I struggle together to learn it and explain it to each other.  We have to learn it – there’s no choice – and learn it well due to the constant pressure of getting more done with less and less resources.

This model serves me well as I nurture my creativity.  What I don’t know, I can figure out.  For Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, I can take classes on lynda.com or ask my favorite boy toy.  For my blogging, there are extensive forums and help content to explore or I can search the Internet.  This is all similar and familiar to what I do at work.  Those same problem solving skills that I use to do my job effectively and efficiently are the same ones needed to use technology for my creative expression.

Above all, I know I need to just experiment.  It’s the best way to learn technology, as long as I’m careful to not wreck whatever I’m working on.

Business Knowledge

Another intangible benefit of my day job is the overall business knowledge it gives me.  It’s not a perfect knowledge, but I’m way ahead of the typical artist.  Although I do not sell my work, I understand there are costs that should not run amuck (i.e., keeping a budget).  I understand taxes, forms of business, how to read contracts, and the politics of the business world.  Well, I do sometimes.  Other days, I wonder what exactly I do know!

Still. . . the point is that my day job gives me constant exposure to the business world.  This helps me when I’m looking at the differences between wordpress.com and wordpress.org (.com is free and therefore does not allow advertising as compared to .org which allows you to accept advertising dollars, but you are responsible for everything from spam filters to firewalls).  It helps me when I’m reviewing my homeowners insurance and how it covers my camera gear, which is why I use a personal articles policy instead.  It even helps when I’m comparing different models of computers, their costs and what the warranties are providing.

How does this nurture my creativity?  I have to spend a lot less time on the mundane, administrative stuff.  There are less missteps and I raise more questions quickly.  My decisions are not perfect, but I struggle less to reach them than the artists my husband knows who do not have this background and are not married to someone who does.

I Have Money To Spend

One of the really great benefits of a day job is having money to spend on my photography and writing.  I don’t have an unlimited budget, but I am able to buy cameras and computers when it’s time.  Three years ago, I upgraded from a top end point-and-shoot camera to my first DSLR, a Canon Rebel.  It’s been a great camera and I’ve taken many wonderful pictures with it.  But a month ago, I wanted a better camera, something with a full frame sensor that would improve the quality of my shots, especially when I was processing night shots or something noisy.  After a short deliberation, I replaced my Rebel with a Canon 6D, and upgraded to an “L” lens for my main zoom lens.  This was a big step for me, but I’m glad that I could afford it.

Likewise, it’s been nice the last few years to take some vacations.  For my boy toy and I, they turn into photography trips.  That’s okay, I enjoy shooting pictures with him even though he rolls me out of bed before daybreak to go chasing the sunrises.  I’m glad we could afford those also.  For more on how we share our passion for photography, click here.

Having money to spend on my creativity is huge.  So many artists struggle with having the financial resources to buy what they need.  I’m glad I don’t have to do that.

More Tomorrow

That’s enough for today.  Tomorrow I will wrap this up and share about Wallace Stevens. Here is a final thought from Wallace Stevens, an observation on the beauty around us:

Beauty is momentary in the mind —
The fitful tracing of a portal;
But in the flesh it is immortal.

The body dies; the body’s beauty lives.
So evenings die, in their green going,
A wave, interminably flowing.
― Wallace Stevens

Click here to see Part 1 of Working a Day Job; click here for Part 3.

To see everything I’m doing with my 31 Days of Nurturing My Creativity, click here.

To see what others are doing with their 31 Days project, click here.


Chaos Is Inevitable – Part 2

20131109-334 Blog
Taking a few minutes to center myself and quiet my mind makes a big difference. I love to sit here in the gardens at Colonial Williamsburg when I can.

A not-so-funny thing happens along the way to extraordinary results.
Untidiness.  Unrest.  Disarray.  Disorder. . .
Messes are inevitable when you focus on just one thing. . .
One of the greatest thieves of productivity is the unwillingness
to allow for chaos or the lack of creativity in dealing with it.
Gary Keller and Jay Papsan in “The One Thing”

There is the chaos of beginning new projects and learning new things, which I wrote about yesterday.  But there is another chaos that also impacts my creativity and it’s that of living a life.

The above quote from Gary Keller and Jay Papsan, in context, was about how when we focus our attention,

. . . the world doesn’t sit and wait. 
It stays on fast forward and things just rack up and
stack up while you bear down on a singular priority. 

The authors go on to say that there are things that can’t be ignored such as family, friends, pets, and jobs.  But you have to work around them, be creative in your solutions, and not let it limit you.  This chaos is one of thieves of productivity.

Whew!  We’ve all been there.  When my daughter was little and I was working full-time, I gave up most every hobby and outside interest.  I worked and took care of my family and that was it.  That was my priority at that time in my life.  I begged, bartered, and stole every moment I could to be with her.  It was worth it – so very worth it.  I was a good employee and attentive mother too.  It was hard, but I was glad I did it.

It’s the same now as I nurture my creativity.  I need to put that same focus into my writing and photography.  Once again, I’m giving up things to do it.  The stakes aren’t as high as raising a child (nor my emotions), but at the same time, it’s important to me.  I want to be creative.  I need to be creative.  It’s more important than watching TV, hanging out, or mindlessly reading.

I need to be kind to myself though.  No matter how much I prioritize or focus, chaos will still happen.  Dogs will need to go to the vet or make a mess that needs cleaning.  My employer will require extra hours.  The house needs a repair that can’t wait.  I need to roll with it and not let it derail me.

Some nights if I’m too tired, I set a timer for 30 minutes and just edit pictures.  Keep this or delete it?  Tag it.  3 or 4 star it if I want to process it sooner rather than later.  It’s better than nothing, so that the nights I have time and energy, I can get right down to working on photos, learning new techniques, or writing up a blog.  My goal is to show up every night and do something, no matter how small it might be.

So chaos is inevitable, both in the initial stages of creation and getting my arms around a project, and continuously as life intrudes and reduces my productivity.  Now I have to remember that and apply it!

To see everything I’m doing with my 31 Days of Nurturing My Creativity, click here.

To see what others are doing with their 31 Days project, click here.


Instrumental People

I’m always so happy to find old pictures, especially of people who were instrumental in my life.  These were co-workers where I worked for nearly ten years before the company had financial difficulties, got sold, and everybody was gone.  Here we were moments before leaving to go to a Cubs game for the afternoon, a reward for a big project that was recently finished.

I’m at the far left – I didn’t fix myself up that day!  Two over from me is my boss, in the dark shirt and shorts.  He was ten years older than I was and so much wiser in the game of life.  His wife was a stay-at-home mother, I was not.  Even so, he was one of my biggest supporters when I had trouble balancing work and family, when I needed favors, and in helping me maintain equilibrium in my life.  I worked hard for him and he was fair in return.  I try to be the kind of boss he was – patient and kind, but providing feedback and correction when needed.  He mentored me daily and I do the same for my staff.

Three over from him is an older gentleman in a yellow shirt who also reported to my boss.  He was older than all of us, having actually passed retirement age a year or so earlier.  At one time he was a top dog in our field.  He had a problem with alcohol though, losing several jobs before going to work for a former employee of his.  His boss / former employee finally did an intervention and made him go to rehab.  This gentleman was vocal that it saved his life and he gave credit to his boss’s willingness to deliver a tough message (get help or get fired) and make it stick.

At the time I worked with him, he was twenty years older than my boss.  He was clear that he was not the boss.  He supported my boss anyway he could, he did any project asked of him, and he taught me that humility and respect were wonderful things no matter what your age or former position used to be.  He was a wonderful team player and example to those of us who were so much younger.

Two people in this picture taught me how I didn’t want to act in the workplace.  From one of these, I learned that no matter what I did, I was offensive merely by breathing the same air in the same room.  I finally had to toughen up and ignore it, being careful to not expose myself in a way that they could hurt me.  Another one taught me that no matter how much someone might smile and act nice, they would often backstab and could not be trusted.  I didn’t have to work with that one very often and generally documented each dealing we had to protect myself.

The rest of them were good friends.  We worked, laughed and cried together.  We pulled together at the end before the company went under and took care of each other as best we could.  They were a good crew and I am still in touch with some of them.

© 2011 dogear6 llc

Word for tomorrow – PRECEDING.  If you prefer to work ahead, see the list for the week under “A Word A Day”.