Friday, October 22, 2010

PTA Blues

This is J’s fifth year in elementary school and for the first time this year, I became a PTA member. As a single parent, I lacked the capacity to take on any volunteer responsibilities that took time away from my never-ending list of to-dos. I figured with DB in the picture, I might have more latitude and dove into the deep end of the pool when I announced my desire to take on some work to help as a PTA volunteer. I have to admit, I received a warm welcome as the PTA is always scrounging for volunteers. Back home, J and  DB were excited for me.

My first assignment was to do the monthly newsletter. Seemed like a walk in the park – I would get inserts from about six sources, I could pick out a template and combine the material. Since there was no editing involved, I was toying with the idea of a Macro to pull the pieces and assemble the newsletter. The work would be a matter of few clicks I had a whole month to do this. 

At the risk of getting ahead of myself, I was wondering if I could get one of the geeks at work to set me up with something like Silverstripe so that the contributors of the inserts could post their content online have the newsletter be generated automatically that the print shop could then print off of.

A day after I had been assigned my duties, another lady whom I will refer to as F volunteered for the same job and to spare us both any hurt feelings, the volunteer coordinator asked that we work on this gig as a team. In the first email, F wrote the following :

I also volunteered for the newsletter :). How would you like to work it out? We can alternate months...When I was in the Army I did the FRG newsletter and loved it. Please give me a call if you have time and we can talk more :)

When I read that note, my sense was that F really wanted this job to herself and wanted me out of her business. Against my better judgment, I decided to call her and work out how we could work on this thing together. In what would later prove to be a  career limiting move, I told her that I was impressed by her prior experience with newsletters and would love to learn from her on the job. F had at that point already picked out a template in some obscure publishing software that believed would be perfect for the job at hand. Sadly it could not be converted into something conventional like Word – but she’d be glad to give it a shot.

Within days she had produced a top-notch newsletter, taken it to the printer’s shop and had copies made for the entire school. The speed and the level of efficiency were astounding, to say the least. There was no way I was going to pull off something even close the next month. I could now see the error of my hide-bound ways – foolishly trying to empower the users with open source content management software when they had this formidable human newsletter generator going at a hundred miles a minute and delighting in the experience.

Almost masochistically at this point, I tried to convert F ’s template and find something like it in Word and when all failed, in a final act of desperation reached out to her for help. She had in the meanwhile left me a voicemail message advising me to begin work on the next month’s newsletter as time was running out. I realized at this point she had taken the leadership role very seriously. A few days later, I had to throw in the towel and wrote this to the volunteer coordinator

F  has a great format for the Newsletter that requires software that I do not have  - we have not been able to convert her template to Word. I think it will work out best if F does the newsletters going forward. 

I would love to volunteer for anything else that I have the skills to help out with.

I had forgotten what it feels like to be kicked out of the proverbial sandbox and my first foray into the world of PTA brought back memories of grade school. I am beginning to realize it is a certain type of person that makes a great volunteer like F and I just do not fit the profile. I lack the intensity, don’t derive a huge amount of satisfaction by doing this job and finally don’t believe in the agenda of this PTA.

I am an outsider who tried to step into the magic circle and had my hand resoundingly slapped. As for the volunteer coordinator, she continues to preserve an icy silence that I can only take to mean that I have been banished from the playground and not just the sandbox. Thanks to me, F must have moved a few notches up the PTA totem pole and for that, I am very happy – she definitely deserves it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Movie Analogy

I served a spicy chicken curry with rice for dinner today and J commented " Eating this is like watching Bridge on the River Kwai - painful to watch but the kind of movie you remember. The blah kind of curry is like watching Cinderella" Over the years, I have heard a lot of interesting things said about the food I cook being that I can go from superlative to insipid effortlessly depending on my frame of mind. This movie analogy is however new in my experience. Since she finished eating her food fairly quickly, I am going to assume that the analogy was a favorable one. At any rate it left me chuckling to myself. 
Since DB came to our lives, we have a TV in the household and the only thing that J finds interesting on it is the Food Channel which she watches every once in a while. So when I baked a streusel cake recently and asked her how she liked it, J was on the roll. "I'd give it an eight and half out of ten. There were far too many flavors colliding with each other and that topping was quite confusing - I did not get that at all". That would be a direct lift from one of the judges of any number of cooking contests. I am so glad that there was not a TV for the first nine years of her life and now when it is here, she does not much care for it. I could only imagine her parroting lines she had heard from less savory sources - I can't imagine I would have been amused at all.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Autonomous Cars

The idea of driving as a hobby rather than a necessity is very appealing to me. I miss that one year I was car-less and used the Metro to go everywhere. As long as those commutes were, I enjoyed the luxury of being able to read and not worry about negotiating traffic. Can't wait for this technology to go mainstream. This is the best of both worlds - freedom from driving while being able to maintain autonomy over the route. There are many other appealing benefits as well - freedom from car insurance, not having to worry about your teenager driving recklessly and not having to chauffeur old or disabled family members to name a few. Along with all those benefits might come the come invasive technology that becomes prime target for marketeers and scammers alike.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Collective Wisdom

Marriage to DB brought home a few painful realizations for me. After all (I think) I went through after my previous marriage came undone leaving with no option but to leave with a three month old baby, I mistakenly believed that my job (this time around) was done when I found the right man. As much as DB is the right man for me, it turns out that the relationship still takes a lot of work to nurture and keep healthy. I realize that I was not "owed" a low maintenance and zero effort marriage because of anything I suffered in the past.
It took at least a few months to even come to this understanding though making peace with it is quite another matter. Then there was the question "What next ?". The most reasonable approach might seem to seek some counseling, try and resolve my resistance to the smallest change in my former way of life, my unreasonable phobia of confrontation and finally my tendency to take an all or nothing stance on things were a more modulated, middle of the road position may be more productive. 
Even before we got married, DB had suggested we get some counseling together being that we come into this relationship with considerable baggage from the past. I scoffed at the idea. In my mind, if two otherwise competent adults need external intervention to help resolve their relationship issues, they have abdicated control over their collective destiny. Why would it be impossible to analyze and discuss the issues at hand and come up with a remedy if both parties were invested in finding a solution ? DB let it slide and only now am I beginning to realize the merits of what he had suggested. 
I no longer find it necessary to retain custody of the relationship by refusing to discuss a problem with an outsider. While I have yet to come around to the idea of a professional counselor, I do talk with friends about some of our challenges. They share with me what they have learned from mistakes and successes in their own relationships. My friend M said to me something to me yesterday that should have been completely self-evident to me but was not. 
DB always buys me thoughtful little gifts - something that would make my life a little less stressful. It could a blue-tooth device for my phone so I did not have to fuss with a ringing phone on the commute, a nice kettle because I drink a lot of tea and am often clumsy with the saucepan in which I boil the water for it.
Or it could be buying me an assortment of dark chocolate because that's my favorite thing or remembering to replenish my supply of Darjeeling tea. Recently we were at a concert by a musician I had a huge teenage crush on. After the performance, DB braved the crowds to buy me a DVD that I could get an autograph on. This while keeping an eye on J and trying to get a picture of my and my hero.

He notices what stresses me out and what makes me happy and tries his best to diminish the former while increasing the later. Though I make every effort to ease his life,  I have yet to buy him a gift. Some days ago in the middle of an argument, he mentioned this as one of the things that caused him disappointment. I would have never imagined I could be accused of being too prosaic and here I was being told exactly that and not entirely without cause.
When I recounted this to M she said "Always pay attention to what your partner does for you that makes you happy and try to do the same thing for them. If he is so attentive to your needs, you can be sure he will be delighted to see you are to his too - it must be important to him and that's why he does it as often as he does" 
Nothing could be more common-sensical and yet it had not occurred to me. Like M, there are other friends who have told me things that I have pondered over. The ideas they have collectively suggested has made me reconsider my way of doing things and actually making positive changes. I still believe there is more power in the collective wisdom of people in myriad of life situations and relationship types than a professional with years of scientific training and a learned ability for being completely objective about the problem they are called upon to solve.