Thursday, November 22, 2012

Used to it

When I first started typing in high school, I used an IBM Selectric and correction fluid which I smeared over mistakes.  It was a mess.  But I was used to it.  Then they invented the correction strips, where I just retyped the wayward letter over the strip and it magically disappeared.  This was such an improvement!  I got used to it.

Then I moved up to a word processor.  I remember the very first day I used one.  I was working in the pathology lab at Methodist Hospital in Memphis, and we had just gotten these newfangled machines delivered.  I volunteered to learn the system first.  They set me up in a little room with a trainer from the company to learn this new way of typing.  I typed my first sentence.  By the second one, I somehow got the cursor in the middle of the sentence, expecting to type over what was on the page.  Immediately I sensed something was wrong.  I turned to the trainer.  "The new letters aren't typing over and replacing the old letters," I said.  "They're adding themselves into the middle and moving the others forward."  He laughed and said, "That's what they're supposed to do!"  What kind of weird system was that?  But I got used to it and learned to enjoy it.  Fast forward to 16 years ago when I started my medical transcription career.  We had a transcription system with a word expander program, where we could actually make shortcuts and type a few letters and the words expanded!  Wow!  It was a clunker, though, and had many drawbacks.  All the transcriptionists shared a database and if one made a change for what typing "cr" would expand to, then all the MTs would be affected.  (That would be a shock if you always used "cr" to expand to "creatinine" and unbeknownst to you, an MT changed it to expand to "cardiopulmonary resuscitation.")  We were also limited to how many of these shortcuts we could enter into the database.  We reached the limit quickly, so every time we wanted to add a new one, we had to come to an agreement on which one to delete.  But the whole system was an improvement on what I used to have, so I gladly got used to it.

Then a few years ago when, after years of this outmoded system, we got a new Windows-based platform and I discovered Instant Text, the creme de la creme of word expander software.  I was in heaven.  The features were extraordinary.  It couldn't get any better.  I got used to it.  Then they improved it, and immediately I wondered how I was ever satisfied with the older version.  This new version is unbelievable!  I am so used to it - used to its perfect design, its comfort on my hands, its intuitiveness, and its production capabilities.  Now I take it for granted that I can transcribe a great volume of work every day.  It's a pleasure to go to work.  I'm used to it.

I guess that's what the purpose of Thanksgiving is - taking the time to look at all the components of our lives that we have become "used to" and breathe a sigh of gratitude.   I'm used to getting all the food I need (and more!).  I'm used to a good job, I'm used to loving family members and faithful friends, I'm used to having enough to wear, a warm house, and a comfy bed at night.    All these things I expect, just like a good production with my MT tools, and because I have had them for long enough I take them for granted.

But do you know what else I'm used to?  Security.  Freedom.  Peace.  I leave the house every day and I'm not searching in the sky for the next drone attack.  I'm not running to the bomb shelter every half hour when a siren blasts.  I'm not kissing my husband goodbye in the morning, wondering if the next time I see him will be in a coffin.  I'm not coming home to a shattered house.  I'm not getting on a bus wondering if there is an explosive hidden on it.  I don't worry that my grandkids' schools will be bombed.  I don't get up in the morning, wondering if this is the day I will lose my life because I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I'm used to a life of peace.

That's what's so hard about watching the news this week.  Because for some folks in the world, fear is a daily occurrence.  The sad part is - they're used to it.  It breaks my heart.  It should break all our hearts, no matter what "side" you take, no matter what country you think is the aggressor and what is the defender (for both sides in this conflict have blood on their hands), humanity is showing its ugly, violent side, the air has the smell of death, and tears are being shed in buckets.  We have enough destruction in this world from weather catastrophes and accidents.  We don't need to add to it by doing things that are preventable.   Does anyone remember the movie War Games?  If hateful revenge is the answer, it will be the final answer because there is no end in the game of retaliation until there is nobody left to retaliate on either side.  Then who wins?

In our own country, there are people still being discriminated against, but they're "used to it" by now. There are families in abusive situations that are just "used to it."  There are people who know nothing but depression, or pain, or addiction, or illness.  It's gone on so long they're just "used to it" and can find no clear way out.

This Thanksgiving, there are some things we are used to, for which we lift up our hands in thanks.  There are other things we are used to that we shouldn't have to be used to, and for these things we pray for strength, patience, enlightenment, wisdom, and a path to peace.  Yeah, peace.  Some folks could really get used to that.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pirate or Policeman?

My remarkable dad, Ensley Tiffin, a man of many talents, had a grand time when he was younger in musical theater in Memphis as a part of Memphis Open Air Theater (MOAT).  He especially held in his heart fondness for the Gilbert and Sullivan shows.  My sister and I grew up with Dad singing from Pirates of Penzance, "A policeman's lot is not a happy one...." - then, as the song dictates at the end, Dad in a deep bass voice would sing the last 3 slow syllables "...happy one."  (My niece Amelia is currently carrying on the family tradition of musical theater in her high school and college acting career.)

How I wish now that I could have paid more attention and appreciated all Dad's stories, but since he died when I was 26 years old, I guess I wasn't old enough and wise enough to appreciate the time I had to listen to this amazing man.  I do remember this, though:  He said in Pirates of Penzance, he had to play double duty.  They didn't have enough people to have a separate cast for policemen and pirates, so the men in the chorus played both roles.  They would do a scene, then have to go quickly change costumes and come out as the other characters, switching back and forth as the show continued.

I think about that story when I think of all the various characters Dad played in his own life - Son, husband, son-in-law, brother-in-law, father, uncle, father-in-law, grandfather, friend, Methodist Sunday School teacher, choir director, chairman of church committees, lay speaker, bank teller, conscientious objector who nevertheless served in the US Army, passionate Democrat, stamp collector, letter writer, reel-to-reel tape operator, home movie cameraman...not to mention the usual roles of a parent as chauffeur, teacher, homework helper, groundskeeper, grocery buyer, vacation planner, bill payer, etc.  Some of these were simultaneous, and others were of a chronological nature as his life stages progressed.

Then I think of all the characters I have played in my life.  I tend to focus on my failings but I try to concentrate on the successes - from my relationships with family and friends to my jobs and concerts and hobbies.   And so do we all play our roles on this earth.  Sometimes we might wish that the cast could be bigger so we could have more down time, but then when life demands it, we rush offstage and change from our policeman costume into our pirate costume for the next scene.   As they say, life is not a dress rehearsal and sometimes we just have to make up the script as we go along.  I guess that's what makes life adventurous - these tragedies and comedies in which we participate. We're on stage completely unprepared, sharing scenes with others who are likewise winging it, knowing that somehow it all comes together and miraculous things can happen.  One minute we're doing one role and the next minute we assume a totally different one, and the change can happen at any moment.

At this Thanksgiving, besides the usual extraordinary people and circumstances I always have to be thankful for, I am realizing that my role is changing once again - as of January 8, I will be grandmother to 4 instead of 3 grandchildren when little Emily Jean is born.   I will have to say out of all my roles on the stage of life, Grammy has to be one of my favorites!  Am I ready for the next act?  Bring it on!

Have a blessed Thanksgiving, everyone.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Clown Backup

I always listen to the radio on my way home from work, and a couple of weeks ago an ad came on for  Apparently Carbonite is some kind of internet computer backup company, but at the time I was listening, tired from a hard day's work, brain off kilter, I misheard their ad, which stated something like "Everyone needs automatic cloud backup."  I, though, heard this:  "Everyone needs automatic CLOWN backup."  I thought, How true!!  Wouldn't it be wonderful that if every time you were frustrated or stressed, something would happen to make you laugh?

I had automatic clown backup when our son Matt was young.  Most kids know what will push their parents' buttons.  Matt knew how to push my funny bone.  He understood that if he could make me laugh, I couldn't be angry with him.  Born with comedic talents anyway, Matt honed his skills so that he would be able to manage any maternal irritation.

He could assume one of his "characters" in an instant - Paw, the old, old man who spoke as if he had no teeth, who was married to The Old Hag and had a girlfriend named Trixie, was his standby.  However, Matt didn't even need to assume one of his personas to make me laugh.  It was always the horse that did it.

The horse involved total body/voice coordination.  His foot would paw the ground while he whinnied and snorted.  It was hilarious and just immediately made me crack up.  It never got dated; it never got monotonous.  It didn't matter how mad I was or where we were - the horse would make me laugh until tears came pouring out of my eyes.   Sister Rachel was never pleased, as she had no similar strategy to fall back on in order to get out of trouble.

Of course, my life ambition now is to teach his son Joshua to find his own special way of making his parents laugh. He has to find out what funny bone stimulant will work on his own parents.  The horse did it for me, but it might take a whole 'nuther approach for Joshua to use when he senses parental doom.

I know what you are thinking.  After all these years, does Matt still do the horse for me?  Aye, if I plead with him!  Do I ever get tired of it?  Neigh, my friends. Neigh.