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The End of Summer

It’s Labor Day weekend. Next week school starts. We haven’t registered Levi yet. I was told before the end of the last school year, that for our neighborhood school – we could wait until the day before school. That’s September 4th. The day after Labor Day. Then, on the next day school starts. Then, on Friday – soccer starts. I am thankful events have been cancelled at my work.

Too much has been changing, to the point I am not comfortable writing about it all. I do not desire to host a professional and a personal blog. I tried that before, and it became too difficult to maintain while life trips over itself into one big … balancing act.

Some themes from the year:

  • Struggling organizations find themselves prey to lack of vision, leadership, and facilitation (among other things).
  • If delegating, embrace “Doers Discretion” or Do It Yourself.
  • Acknowledge that we all struggle with communicating our intent and to be understood. Understand that it is not often that we don’t share similar goals: to do decently for the organization.

Hopefully more writing to come later.

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Conflicting Priorities

Levi looking down at me.

We were at Brooklyn Park, playing. Levi was running around, and I was snapping photos. Here’s a silly photo of Levi looking down at me.

I only studied for English (10.1) and my drivers’ education manual. Everything else slipped. The teacher was the same, so if I was going to prioritize one class over another – those two classes would win out.

I was in tenth grade. I was a sophomore in high school. And, this is just one example of where I get involved in things because I think they are important and suffer from continued, conflicting priorities.

I was surprised today by the random discussion of happiness. It doesn’t happen very often. Usually, it’s when a loved one thinks that I am unhappy and they question my happiness. The exchange with this individual included her definition of happiness that sounded more like some unattainable place of consistent joy to me. She even asked me if I was simply happy with who I am. I quickly stated “No.” Why? Because I’m not.

I explained that I think “happiness” is this ride we’re on. Sometimes there are highs, and sometimes there are lows. It just is. Life just is. I hope to eventually cherish all moments and knit them together in the story of me. Perhaps one day someone will be interested in hearing it.

I am not wholly happy with myself because, as most of us, I am my own worst critic. I know my faults. I know many of my strengths (even if I don’t know how to describe them well enough for others to understand or hear them). But, I definitely know my faults. I know where I fail as a wife, sister, daughter, and most importantly mother. I know when I should be more patient. I internalize a lot. So, I replay scenes where I screwed up in my head, repeatedly. No matter how quickly the other has gotten over whatever trespass, chances are I still haven’t forgiven myself.

Now, this plays out in a day to day scene where I more or less don’t worry about these things. They affect me, I internalize, and I think I play it out with a pretty straight face.

Back to priorities. This post is really about priorities and happiness. The thought has occurred to me, again, that perhaps I actually define happiness by doing something, which is why I started this post in tenth grade.

I consider this while my leg jiggles, I check my email, double check my schedule, and choose to NOT do other things. I am not editing notes and redrafting minutes. I am not reading for the meeting on Saturday. I am not perusing a gift to by for an upcoming wedding. I am not looking at ticket prices for our trip to Michigan. I am not folding laundry. I am not watching TV. I am not finishing the dishes.

Conflicting priorities. If everything is important than nothing is. Conflicting priorities. I can only be in one space at a time. One moment. With my inability to accurately assess how long tasks take, coupled with my inability (or refusal) to say no, I end up with conflicting priorities – often. The above example of thoughts in my head is not unlike most moments in the day. When I’m in a meeting where I feel my time is being valued, I don’t have a problem remaining in the moment. It’s when I’m out of the forced set aside that conflict arises. This didn’t start in tenth grade. It started long before that. My mother has even quipped that I frequently burn the candle at both ends.

But there is just so much to do! So many interesting things. So many obligations! So much going on … and I don’t want to miss a minute of it. Which means that with my inability to say no, I inevitably miss some things. (Like when I missed Levi’s last soccer game of the year last year. I had been to every single other game and practice, but the last game conflicted with my employer’s gala. I chose to participate in the paying gig.)

I do feel joy being a part of these things I believe in: my son’s education and upbringing, time with my husband, social justice, food justice, stewardship of the land. Knowing that I am working with things that are important to me gives me contentment. But, I wouldn’t call it happiness – it’s a journey towards happiness. I do not like feeling idle, and if there’s time in the schedule – I feel idle. So, when there isn’t time in the schedule – I am over-committed and conflicted!

And that, friends, is why it’s called a Balancing Act.

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Mission Driven

More than twenty. I’ve been ballsier about admitting this lately. More than twenty jobs. Most of which were held in my twenties. Twenty for twenty.

I used to think it was me. I owned the responsibility for having this many jobs. I owned the lack of synergy, or getting along, or poor money management. But, the reality is, I had little control over many of those things.

I am learning about myself — more — and one reason for moving to so many jobs is simply my desire to know more. I love to learn. And, as a learner, I get bored — easily. I have also learned that of anything I need to own, it’s my need for belief. That is, I need to believe in the organizations where I spend my time. I suspected this in my twenties, but it was difficult for me to narrow my interests as … I was still learning about myself. (Not that that learning is over! It’s just getting clearer and more focused!)

Recently, someone stated the obvious. “Boy!” she exclaimed, “You’ve worked for a lot of dysfunctional organizations!”

Yes! I have! One organization lost $8 million in their reserve, BEFORE I was even hired on! How could I own that? That’s not a responsible way to go about life. I can’t own EVERYONE’s mistakes. That’s a huge disservice to me.

Yes, these organizations were dysfunctional. They lacked vision, leadership, and couldn’t organize around a central theme because the leaders couldn’t focus the employees. It has to be more than “We want the organization to succeed.” Organizations can succeed in many ways. They can serve their clients and constituents. They can make a lot of money. Or, they can do a lot of things. I am starting to wonder, though, if success and focus should be more defined by mission focus. I am starting to wonder if a clear mission focus is enough to centralize teams past dysfunction.

If a team’s dysfunction starts with distrust, and if distrust can be defined by misunderstood intent, then maybe a mission focus can appease intent and help build trust. If absence of mission focus gives ego more space, which often gives suggestions and priorities and advice that is not equal to compelling information but more in line with career advancement, then maybe mission focus is a way to re-engerize a team passed self-interest.

Teams, I am learning, stay in tact because they have community. We can’t get around it. We have to constantly be building community. We have to care about those we spend 40 hours a week if we want to continue spending 40 hours a week there.

I’m not sure where that puts me right now. But, it certainly gives me thoughts for organizations I have a controlling interest. It gives me confidence for the choices we’ve made and how we move forward.

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School: 2012/2013

Given the space my brain needs to think about all the other things going on, I am tired of thinking about schools for Levi next year. We applied for one charter school, missed the deadline for MLC, missed the last open house (though not the registration) for Chief Joe, and am ambivalent about applying again for Levi’s current school to next year.

After hearing other stories, reading the Trouble with Boys, and experiencing a play based learning center to one that’s more academic in its orientation — I don’t have a lot of hope that we’ll see dramatic changes in no matter what choice we choose. If Levi’s current school was amazing, I could justify the expense. But, I doubt it will be worse (or better) than the local public school (that’s walking distance with rave reviews). The better risk, it seems, is to go to the public school (with union teachers) and call it good enough.

We’ve now passed the deadline for the current private school. But, we are no nearer a decision. Life has made timing a little muddled, and we’ll have to find alternatives to get the tours we need. The comforting knowledge is that Peter and I are on the same page. He saw some ruffians near the public school the other day. Granted, they were too old to have gone to the grammar school, but it prickled my husband’s feathers. We know the parents at the current school. They are all normal. Some of the parents at the schools we’ve visited … above normal. What if the parents in this gentrified neighborhood aren’t normal?

Me, though, I am done thinking about this. I wanted Levi to go to private Catholic school since before he was born. It’s proved to not be extraordinary. It’s proved to teach some religious ed, incorporate Christian holidays, but still it’s just normal. From what Levi is learning, there is no special learning style or different structure that really differentiates it from a public school.

The only thing I’d trade about my public school upbringing were the other kids. Why? Because when you move around a lot, other kids can be mean. When you don’t fit into the established cliques, life can be hard. But, I loved most of my teachers. They were kind. They were all caring. They all wanted me to succeed. They wanted all of my classmates to succeed. I can’t think of a single teacher who didn’t want to do their job to the best of their abilities. And, the real nice about public schools is that the teachers are unionized. I belive unions have a better chance of making our world a more stable place than without. So, no matter how ineffective they might seem, I think they are a good thing and it’s a good thing to support them. Private school teachers are likely not organized and they usually make less than their public counterparts.

What about homeschooling you might ask. Well, it’s not an option for our family, and not just because I don’t want to do it. But, I don’t want to do it. I don’t have the patience to consider lesson plans or field trips. I love my son, but he needs more diversity than mom.

So, the task for next week is to try to meet with Chief Joe. Maybe take a peek at the classrooms and sit down with a teacher or the principle. I would like to decide before April. Because when April comes, we need to start figuring out what to do over the summer…

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My StrengthsFinder 2.0 said I’m deliberative. It was actually the last of my top five strengths. But, it’s the one I pride the most.

Always, I have been told that I am a good listener and that I give good counsel. This has fluctuated over the years, and finally, after 34 years of living, I’m starting to see the pattern.

You see, I’m also an introvert. I didn’t really know what that meant either until less than a decade ago. And, as I continue to grow up into my 30s, I become more self-aware. Thankfully, I think, I am learning something.

So, what am I learning?

I am learning that I don’t like to work in fast paced environments. I used to enjoy the periodic thrill, for example, of checking in a group of 200-500, then resting, sorting through the chaos and making order of it all. I used to think that fast paced strengthened my skills in multi-tasking. Somewhere along the way, as society has learned this too, I realized that there is no such thing as multi-tasking for the human brain. Sure, I hold many things in tandem, but I can only do one thing at a time. So, while I may pause to answer the phone, then go back to the document I was editing, I’m really only doing one thing at a time. What’s more, I realized that the more I focus on the one thing at a time, the better I do at it.

Sure, there is something to be said for diversifying projects. I enjoy how multiple projects overlay and give new ideas and creativity to each other. But, when you tip the balance too far into the multi-tasking “over kill range”, you lose focus on all.

I am deliberative. I enjoy having time to take that pause. I enjoy having the time to process all those inputs and think about all those lessons I’m supposed to be learning. I love thinking (intellection was my #2 strength) and pondering how they wrap around my beliefs.

But, I must have time to do that. And, fast paced environments seldom lend themselves to the time to simply sit and think. I do my best work when I can think. That’s why it’s so important for me to write every day (yes, I know, I haven’t been).

A friend asked me how I keep my vision in tandem with the chaos that presents itself daily. This was in reference to a group we are working with, together. I told her, frankly, it’s because I don’t have to work with everyone, every day, 8 hours a day. I get that much-needed, introvert needed, break. I refresh, sometimes monthly from the chaos. I refresh, I think, I ponder. I pause. I reflect. I deliberate.

So, what am I doing then if a fast paced environment with frequent interruptions is not for me? Because, clearly, in some avenues in my life — I am in the wrong space.

When I think of these things together, I see that I should be doing project based contract work. Yet, my skills in a desired contract environment aren’t up to snuff where I’d feel comfortable charging for their use. A friend suggested building a client list and offer my services pro bono with the caveat that these clients should write a letter of recommendation. But, this takes time, and I’m also impatient.

I know. I need to summon my patience. Isn’t that what my major lesson was from the housing crash of 2008? Be patient, I hear Mister Miyagi intone to Daniel. Be patient, I hear him croon while other endeavors create, slowly, as they should.

Oh right. I should be patient, while I deliberate. Because as I patiently think about this, the answers will come.

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Rousseau & the First Discourse

This was a paper written for Professor Curtis Stokes at Michigan State University for my MC 370 class (taken for the 2nd time).

Note: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the First Discourse: on whether the restoration of the Sciences and Arts has contributed to the purification of morals.

In Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s First Discourse, the blame he puts on the Arts and Sciences for contributing to the lack of morals and virtues in his modern society is very relevant today. Just look in the morning paper to see the variety of morals that are diminishing. We have people killing other people to support hallucinatory habits. Corporate takeovers and monopolies controlling the market are commonplace. We constantly see the religious right and other morally right peoples try and persuade our government to correct our immorality. Wear your seat belt. Don’t do drugs. Don’t let this big mean company hurt my innocent little company. How did most of these things come about? They were by-products of the arts and sciences. All stems from education. We are taught that we must have a good education to succeed in the world. Perhaps it’s the education that is really the root of all of this evil and purging of our morals. After reading both Rousseau’s First Discourse and his Preface to “Narcissus” it becomes clear that Rousseau abuses the arts and sciences in the former and becomes a defender for them in the latter if they are taken in moderation and not idolized.

In Rousseau’s First Discourse, it is not “Science… [he] abuse(s) … it is Virtue [he] defend(s) before virtuous men (page 5).” He defends virtue in an era where education of arts and sciences is precedent to being good. Time and time again, Rousseau gives argument after argument how the sciences and arts have led to men preferring luxury over hard work and a moral living. He claims that Arts and Sciences rarely exist without luxury, and luxury cannot exist without them (16, 18). What is it that most of us want? Is that what education really teaches us? How to want expensive things? Why are we in college? We want the good life. We want the nice car, the great house on the beach, the apartment in the city. We want to do better than our parents, and our parents want us to do better than them. We want to support our children better than our parents supported us. We want to have more toys and gadgets to make our lives easier and more pleasurable. Our parents want to spoil our grandchildren, as good grandparents do. All of these things are luxurious. Do we really need the nice car, the house on the beach, the apartment in the city, and the fun toys and electronic gadgets to make life easier? Are they necessary to a healthy life? Rousseau would argue no. Rousseau is very admirable of the vulgar or rustic man, although they wouldn’t have the ability to comprehend his writings, he loves their simplicity. Their lives aren’t complex, and they innately understand what virtue is by acting on it and not explaining it. Rousseau claims that in the modern society, people do a lot of talking about virtue, a lot of analyzing it, but they fail to understand and act on it. Only the common rustic man can really live the virtuous life, for once corrupt you are doomed to always be corrupt. The educated man is corrupt once learned from the corrupt education institutions. Rousseau states that “until the Romans had been content to practice virtue; all was lost when they began to study it (13).” It isn’t difficult to find examples of Rousseau’s arguments in our world today. As humans are innately good, we recognize hints of immorality. Therefore we despise the learned wealthy cooperate financier for his ruthlessness. We despise the all-knowing politician for his corruptness. We despise the intelligent scientist who cloned Dolly the Sheep for corrupting our morals. We despise so many people who are learned because they degrade our morals in society today. What good has our education done but to make us want more of what we don’t really need? Do we really need the $300,000 dollar a year job to support our futuristic families and ourselves? Can’t we get by on $40,000 or maybe even $10,000? If there’s a will there’s a way, right? (Unless we don’t really want to be virtuous.) Do we really need any monetary compensation? Can’t we get along in the wilds of Canada picking berries and sleeping under trees? We’d have the barest of necessities, just enough to survive on. We wouldn’t care about the newest, fastest car that has come to the market. We would only care about our survival, and the survival of our friends and families. We wouldn’t need an institutional education because we’d be surviving on instinct to survive.

Another interesting similarity between Rousseau and our modern day society, is his claim of lack of citizenship. He argues that “we have Physicists, Geometricians, Chemists, Astronomers, Poets, Musicians, Painters; we no longer have citizens; or if we still have some left, dispersed in our abandoned rural areas (24)…” What do we have today but Scientists of all sorts, physicists, chemists, and astronomers. We have Mathematicians, and musicians; we have artists who specialize in painting and poetry. How many times do we hear how awful a country is? How often is it said that people are not proud to be from their birth country? We have a lot of inhabitants that choose different paths, but despise where they come from. As far as our abandoned rural areas, what job is disappearing very quickly? Recently a town next to my hometown of Greenville held its annual Applefest. Oddly, there were no apple orchard representatives. There was one scheduled, but it could not come for it went out of business a few months earlier. Our nation’s farms are being sold for expanding cities and corporate mergers. An honest man’s wage is getting harder to come by. Rousseau would be saddened that there has been no real improvement in our morals.

In the “Preface to Narcissus” Rousseau defends himself against his critics by claiming that it wasn’t all sciences he is against, just when one pours all of his energy into defending and expanding them without a thought for the common good. He feels that Science taken abstractedly is wonderful. However, one needs to be better rounded. Do not devote all of your energy into them. Take the good and move on (97). Rousseau’s argument in the First Discourse was very strong. He put a good case against the Arts & Sciences in his defense of virtue. His attempts to save face in “Preface” are weak at best. He raises many good points and he does clarify the overall argument, however, he seems to sidestep the replies and comments to the First Discourse like a well-staged politician. Despite his meager retreat to please the critics, Rousseau still had good points about Sciences and the Arts and modern Society.

“What a strange and ruinous constitution, where having wealth invariably makes it easier to get more, and it is impossible for the man who has nothing to acquire anything (101).” Isn’t that true of our modern day society? Single mothers dependent on welfare rarely get out of this cyclical system. If, and when they do, it is usually by marriage. Sometimes that is not even enough and both parents’ end up struggling together. How wrong is it that a rich man can get richer (Bill Gates before the anti-trust suits) and by bigger gadgets and things, while the poor man must beg for food so he can live to see another day? How awful is it where our children aren’t learning and are dying malnourished (third-world countries around the globe)? Isn’t it backward to live in a society that encourages learning but fails to teach people to care? A society that proclaims freedom and equality for all while we have people sleeping on park benches because they lost their house or were abandoned by their parents. We speak the learned languages and philosophies of the Ancients, yet fail to act virtuous.

“What have we gained from all this? Much chatter, rich men and argumentative ones, that is to say enemies of virtue and common sense. In return we have lost innocence and morals. The multitude grovels in poverty; all are the slaves of vice. Uncommitted crimes dwell deep inside men’s hearts, and all that keeps them from being carried out is the assurance of impunity.” (101)

In “Preface to Narcissus”, Rousseau makes a stronger argument against corrupt men who cannot distinguish between good and bad, while he is much more favorable towards the Arts and Sciences. It’s as if the Arts and Sciences are the unwitting accomplices in the corrupt man’s plight to torture the civil and virtuous man. Rousseau does offer a small solution while acquiescing to the problem.

“It is no longer a matter of getting people to do good, but only of distracting them from doing evil, they must be kept busy with trifles to divert them from evil deeds; they must be entertained rather than sermonized.” (104)

Here, Rousseau gives an example of what today would be called your local YMCA, United Way, or any other Keep Kids Off the Street Organization. Keep people entertained at ball games, charity events, working on their gardens, or enhancing their crafts. Keep them busy with things they enjoy, and they will cease to do evil. If this pattern continues for many generations, maybe a virtuous lot will be born again.

Rousseau’s First Discourse is very relevant, no matter how emphatically he claims it was feasibly argued in his Confessions. Of everything Rousseau has to say in his First Discourse, the most important thing we should get out of it is a warning. If we continue on our paths of seeking riches instead of a form of salvation, if we continue to use the arts and sciences for evil by enhancing laziness, our society will be doomed. We should do useful things with our arts. Create things to be used usefully such as better farm equipment and building things with our hands, not things that abuse the human body and soul such as television (because it leads to apathy). Once we find the perfect harmony between the Arts and Sciences and virtuous living, this will be our hope and a virtuous man will again be born.

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Teacher Appreciation (Year)

Freer Gallery of Art
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

You have to have crappy teachers to know when to spot the good ones. I am ever thankful that 99.9% of my teachers were good, for me. They reinforced my love of learning. Here’s a snapshot.

Mr. Cardwell

English & Drivers’ Ed. Notable lessons: The Masses are Asses (lesson from reading Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar). Poetry should be read aloud. Mind that lead foot.

Mr. Schmedicke

English. Notable lessons: Most of the students in my class, he told my mother at a parent teacher conference, were bumps on a log, but I asked questions. It reinforced my belief, desire, and need to ask questions and constantly question the teacher.

Mr. Joseph Jones

IAH 201 (MSU for Integrated Arts & Humanities, aka social science). Notable lessons: Many. Teacher for life, always willing to coach, answer questions, and embark in philosophical conversations. Doesn’t mind being questioned, although he puts up a fight.

Mr. Carlton

Algebra, Computers. Notable lessons: PowerPoint! This is where I learned to use PowerPoint on Windows 95, the Teachers (advanced from public release) Edition. You can tell a true mathematician because they look for the shortest route between point A and point B.

Art !
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Mrs. Erspamer

Geometry. Notable lessons: those slightly off color jokes she told to wake up our freshmen minds. Shapes are cool.

Mrs. Dewey

Art & Art History. Notable lessons: Introduction to slides shows… the survey of all survey classes. Pointillism. Rendering. Art museums. Love, art. Rendering shapes is even cooler.

Mrs. Wolf-Marvin

4th grade. Notable lessons: Hug a tree. Adopt a tree. Enjoy your tree.

Mrs. Roadhouse

3rd grade 2nd grade. Notable lessons: Handwriting. Watching the Challenger.

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A palette of watercolours and a brush.
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In response to my Cooking post, she said something like, “Wow, Michelle, I enjoy your passion about things.”

I thought. I paused. I reflected.

I was questioned several years ago why I won’t do art as a career. I can draw (always have been able to). I enjoy it. I love it. I love getting better. I love hearing new things and experiencing new things I can do with pen, paper, paint, paints, charcoal, any medium really. But, why don’t I pursue it as a career? I said, “I don’t want to ruin the thing I love with the pursuit of money.” He retorted, “Why not do the thing you love because you love it?”

Indeed. It’s too personal is the other answer. I don’t want what is so close to my heart criticized. And, there are so many other things I like doing, why be pigeonholed? I need a career that can encapsulate most of what I like to do – simply to keep me engaged!

I have realized that there are about three things – ideas – where I like to focus my daily thoughts: food, the earth (environment, planet, etc), and housing. There are skills I enjoy utilizing to talk about these ideas: drawing, sketching, presenting, creating, office busy work, talking, facilitating, organizing, motivating, problem solving, writing, reading, teaching.

I can use art to talk about food, but the creation of the artistic thing doesn’t have to be the only thing, and it doesn’t have to be tied to my heart or a commission. I can use the design skills I’ve used to help educate and inform marketing choices at work or in the clubs with which I work. I can use my writing to help with websites, newsletters, business letters – and it’s just part of the picture – not the whole thing.

I have learned I have to diversify my interests, but not too much because I can’t be stretched thinner than I already am. I learned that I can’t be a crisis counselor full time no matter how much compassion I might have for the person or the cause – but volunteering a few hours a month works. I have learned to overcome certain fears: like asking for money. I have learned that it’s even easy to ask people to support causes I love.

I have learned that I don’t want just any job and that it must be tied around a passion in order to motivate me to do it. Working a as a secretary just anywhere won’t do – it has to be around my interests. Several years ago I realized that my personal goal is to “teach people about the importance of a sustainable society.” Sustainability as defined using the metaphor of “people, places, and profit” all in equilibrium suggesting a balance in environmental use, the people who do the work, and ensuring there is a black bottom line for the finance people.

So, yes, friend, I would agree – I am passionate. But, I don’t know how else to operate! I feel like there is no point if I don’t go with where my passions direct me. Thank you kindly for your observation because it has given me this opportunity to reflect.

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Fiction: Future

Front page of The New York Times July 29, 1914...
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Note: The second writing tip in this top ten suggests writing different styles. I’ve got a pretty good groove with my daily ponderings, but I always get fiction bits floating through my head. So, why not start something? Nothing says I have to finish, but starting is something. (I have started various fictions in various forms over the years (none really finished), but let’s let this start be a part of the challenge.)

The alarm went off. Billy rubbed his eyes. Morning wake up, always difficult. What happened to the days when he was a morning person? Where did they go? He could see the sun peeking through the break in the curtain. He sat up, half way, propped on his elbows, taking the daily-morning assessment of the room. The cat, Henry, had slept on the bed again. His glasses were still by the night stand. He reached over, plucked them on his face, and took a sip of water. Looking up, the alarm screen showed it was forecasted for 68 and sunny with a light breeze, 5-10mph. A nice day. Some old-school Classic Rock (Cheap Trick), was getting louder, reminding him he needed to wake.

Rolling off the covers, he threw his feet over the edge of the bed, stretching out the last remnants of sleep. Tucking his feet into his red, corduroy slippers, he started to plan his day. There was an early coffee with the volunteer captain, a mid-morning meeting with Councilman Skinner, lunch with the Dean of Environmental Education, and an afternoon in the office. Given the forecast, the office might have to be by the waterfront today.

One last stretch, and Billy waved off the alarm screen. He could hear the coffee peculating, on schedule. Stepping into the bathroom, he set his shower for 101 degrees, pondering how far water-on-demand, or InstaH2O, has come. At 4 minutes, 30 seconds, the pressure started to wane, warning Billy his time is about up.

Over breakfast, Billy caught up on the days’ news, browsing through various news-sources. The Guardian, Washington Post, New York Times, Globe & Mail, and various Asian reports. He still preferred his news screen to be embedded in the glass of his dining table, whereas many he knew simply opted for the standing kinetic screens. The markets were down, again. The Dow hit another record low, this time 15,000. He couldn’t believe it was 35,000 just five years ago. Although there hasn’t been another housing crash like the one in ’08 (banking regulations continue to get more stringent), the encroaching desert in much of the world has put markets in a tail spin.

Billy was excited to chat with Mark, his top volunteer-captain. Mark had great ideas on steering the education-stewardship piece of policy. This would serve as a good primer for his meeting with Councilman Skinner who, despite all the things Billy’s group has done, still has resistance to volunteer-driven stewardship. Billy was looking for more secure funding in the Pre-K-to-clean-rivers programs where groups hosted 5  year olds to do litter clean up and native plantings. After all these years, even though stewardship was a common goal and no longer argued about, he was surprised it was still a struggle for policy makers to make the link. They were able to keep the desert back in so many areas with the stewardship approach, he often forgot it’s not a “no-brainer” to those saying how the money should be spent.

On the mag-train into the city center, Billy glanced over his next week’s appointments. Next week marked the 50th anniversary of the Amazon Burn. Sarah’s NGO had been a part of the organizing effort for his neighborhood. 20 years ago, A Swiss gentleman, founded the first world-wide event to summarize these world-wide atrocities in a day of education, so we could continue to learn from history instead of pretending it didn’t happen. Even though they haven’t been able to turn around the encroaching desert, there hadn’t been oil spill in 13 years. Coal mines closed down 17 years ago. And most countries had a variety of natural power sources.

Billy was glad he found his place in plants and volunteers. It was that ground-up fixing that motivated him, literally building strong roots. But he never ceased to be surprised at how far humanity had come in such a short amount of time.

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