Nora, should we decorate the Christmas tree? Okay! Let’s bring all the boxes down from downstairs and you can hang the ornaments. Oh, I forgot about all these glass bulbs. Yes, they are pretty. Okay, now, the thing is, some of these ornaments are breakable. See this one? If it falls on the floor, it will break. So, be really careful. Okay, maybe don’t try to hang three at once. Maybe one at a time with the glass ones. Really, they will break. They are breakable. Yes, they are. Even though you haven’t broken any yet, they are in fact, ridiculously breakable and will break. You don’t remember that bulb you broke last year, when you were two? Of course you don’t. Your little corpus callosum wasn’t fully formed, making episodic memory storage and retrieval well nigh impossible. Yes, yes, they are breakable. Not that I really care about them being broken. What I’m mainly worried about are your feet. Little, infinitesimally small shards of the thinnest glass in your soft pink foot skin. I don’t want glass in your feet. Or my feet. Or daddy’s. Or Hoover’s. Because it would hurt. It’s really hard to clean up all the glass when the glass is thinner than onion skin. Okay, maybe hang some all around the tree, hanging five ornaments on one branch, well, one might slip and fall to the floor breaking into a gajillion pieces. Okay. Nice job! The tree looks so pretty. Oh, you want me to hold this? Okay, are we taking all the ornaments off the tree now? Okay, maybe just the ones that won’t break. How about you point to an ornament and we’ll tell you whether or not it’s breakable. If it’s not breakable, you can take it off and play with it. Um, that one’s breakable. Yeah, that one too. No, that one’s not breakable. Oh, okay, I can hold that for you. That’s breakable. Breakable. Breakable. Not Breakable. Breakable…
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In our quest for efficiency, we have created a culture that venerates the assembly line and convenience. Corporations, small business and even workers believe it’s best to do business in the way that’s most efficient, streamlined and convenient. If we’re talking about manufacturing, I have no quarrel with streamlined processes. If we’re talking about taking care of children and the elderly, or even the service industry, we get into some trouble.
I used to cook in restaurants for a living. Cooking is what’s known as a “back of the house” function, serving is “front of the house.”
In the back of the house, you can’t afford to waste a movement. You use your whole body to get things done, your foot closes an oven door, your hip a refrigerator door, your elbow nudges something teetering on the edge of a counter, your hands are a flurry of flipping and stirring. Your senses are engaged to make certain you know the status of each piece of food and order you are handling. Customers are faceless; reduced to tickets in a window or text and numbers on a screen.
I’ve worked in the front of the house, too. Yes, you must be efficient, but you must “waste” movements. You may have set a path for yourself to lead you from task to task, but a customer with a need should always be your first priority, or there goes your tip. Customers get testy if they think refilling a salt shaker is more important than refilling their soda.
In both cases, your ability to make money is through serving the customer, but when the customer is right in front of you, your focus is much different.
And here lies the problem with some institutionalized care. Nursing homes, daycares, schools: they want the ruthless efficiency of the back of the house, they forget their primary function is to satisfy their customers. This could be true in either for profit or non-profit organizations.
Once, while using a restroom in a community center, I witnessed something I fear is a common scene. A line of about ten preschoolers were brought in by a care provider. The care provider was cranky, the kids were squirmy. But, squirming was not tolerated. You would have thought they tiny military recruits. The care provider yelled at them to keep the line straight, stay still and be quiet while she helped each child use the toilet. The children looked miserable. The care provider’s goal was order; it should have been a happy group of children. There are many ways to accomplish a somewhat orderly toilet time without resorting to meanness and shouting.
A number of years ago, PBS featured a documentary called “Almost Home” which told the story of a nursing home in Wisconsin. The director there looked at the standard nursing home model, where residents are forced into a schedule of activities in a cold looking environment and said, “No more.” He realized the facility was set up for staff convenience, not the comfort of those who must live there.
Patient rooms and bathrooms were re-modeled to look more home-like. Residents could choose to do what they wanted, when they wanted, just as they would at home. They could choose their food through a menu of options. Basically, the nursing home was completely re-geared to actually serve the elderly.
Staff attitudes are often the biggest obstacle to this type of organizational shift. Instead of doling out meatloaf at 5:30 sharp, the nursing home food service staff must now make food to order any of time of day. The community center is a non-profit organization with the goal of helping people, but the ornery care provider lining children up against the wall has her own agenda. She wants to get through the work day with as little inconvenence to herself as possible. It takes some convincing to show her there’s a better way. Organizations have to work hard to show employees what’s in it for them.
Anyone who has taken care of a child or an elder knows that efficiency is something only sporadically attainable, and often at a cost. Care for another being is so much more than completing a series of tasks. As a culture, it’s time we start demanding institutions that forsake efficiency and honor the individual.
Tuesday evening, thousands of people uploaded a file to the NaNoWriMo.org site and declared victory. They managed to write 50,000 words in 30 days. My hat is off to them. What a fantastic accomplishment.
I didn’t make it, but I did learn some things along the way:
- I can write fiction. I’ve always written essays and memoir pieces; I didn’t think I had the imagination to write fiction. And while the biggest plot twist in my novel was Ben’s idea, still, I was able to make up lots of stuff on my own.
- I don’t like writing crap for the sake of writing crap. While I get it that the point of NaNoWriMo is to turn off your internal editor and give yourself permission to write junk, I didn’t care for that part. Which is strange; that’s the part I thought I would love. I came up with most of my good ideas before NaNo officially started, during the outlining process. It was painful to write line after line I could never use.
- I can write a blue streak for two weeks straight. It felt great to make my word count for those first two weeks. And I have a story I can work with over the long term.
- A month is too long to ignore my life — and ignoring sleep is not an option. In the days just before NaNo started, I scrubbed my house and stuffed my fridge full of pre-cooked meals. The house got dirty again in a day or two, and we ate all the food the first week. Weeknights, there is only time to cook, eat, play with Nora and get her to bed. I am loath to trade Nora time for writing. Also, I am incapable of staying up past 8:30pm. Thus, I fell behind on my word count – hopelessly so. C’est la vie.
- I love blogging. While there were lots of little reasons I threw in the towel, blogging was a big part of it. I missed my blog and all of you. I kept coming up with great post ideas (you should see my drafts folder right now!) that I wanted to work on right away.
Yes, I will probably try again next year. But I may plan to take some additional time off that month. My goal for the next few months is to read some of my favorites novels to figure the elements I was missing. For the few months after that, I’ll work on my exisiting draft of about 25,000 words. The writing will not stop.
Frankly, I didn’t much like my tenth grade biology teacher. I thought he was kind of a creep who was a little too excited about the grislier details of his field of study — evidenced by the roadkill deer he happily disected for us one morning. But, you should know, I was an obnoxious know-it-all kid.
After watching a video of a human birth during our reproduction unit, I boldly asserted, “I am never doing that.”
“Yes, you will,” he told me knowingly. I felt the urge to punch him in the mouth. Then he tried to explain the wonders of childbirth and parenting, and that I was biologically programmed to have children; it was not an urge I would likely overcome. This struck me as anti-feminist, surely, women in the nineties aren’t required to have children. It didn’t even occur to me that he was not trying to be anti-feminist, but rather pointing out the joy and life experience gained through parenting is one I may not want to miss.
“Bet you ten dollars!” I protested.
“I’ll take that bet!” he laughed.
“I will bring you the reciept from my tubal ligation,” I sneered. I must have been insufferable.
This story comes to mind when I see or hear people strongly voicing convictions — as if they will never think any differently than they do today. Think of any polarizing topic, and I’m certain we can find someone who has switched sides — even on the toughest issues.
These days I try to be careful of asserting my convictions too strongly, life is happy to prove me wrong. Though sometimes, being proved wrong is the best thing ever.
I should probably go write the poor guy a check.