Things to Do While You’re Alive


Detail of a lamp I created for a festival called "Blooming Boxes" at Westmoor High School
Detail of a lamp I created for a festival called “Blooming Boxes” at Westmoor High School ©2014 Anne Campagnet-Reed

“I’m getting old,” I moaned to my 19 year-old daughter, attempting to share my state of self-pity and disillusionment, as part of a larger existential malaise. “Well, you’re not dead yet,” she said, with trenchant insight.

You know, looking at things from the perspective that you’re about to die really gives you clarity about what’s important. And then, when you realize that a lot of people really are close to death, and possibly really depressed about it, you realize that your moping and dejection are really foundationless. You look up at the sky, take in a deep breath, and realize, “Yes! There is so much more I can do!!” There is time to chase my rainbow, to right (at least some of) my wrongs, to move forward into joy and meaning.

I have been looking for my career to be my inspiration and my solace. When I lost my job, it seemed like my life was over. A part of it is. The social interactions I had every day are gone. I am nagged daily by the “need to make money,” that ugly little mosquito that constantly threatens a malarial bite. Its uglier big cousin, the “Need to Define Yourself by Your Job” is lurking even more menacingly, just out of visual range; a true vampire waiting for the nightfall of my self-esteem.

It’s time to turn on the lights, stand up, and tell the Boogey Man to go away. My daughter is right. I’m not dead at all, dammit, and I’m going to continue my quest to be enlightened and to do good. Maybe I’m not sure how, yet, but I have confidence that my path will come apparent.

This thought liberated my mind enough for some global reflection on society for the past 75 years or so:

It’s all about communication. Letterpress newspapers and telegrams have given way to e-magazines, tweets and text messages. Google Glass is showing us that you no longer need a keyboard to look up a person’s data; you just need to literally look up at the person, and a stream of their personal data appears. Other interfaces soon to be invented will allow our thoughts to control devices and communications, making any 3-dimensional media obsolete.

I’ve always been wary of Facebook and its seeming disregard for any shred of privacy we once thought we had as individuals. More insidiously, the web crawlers and cookies that are scattered everywhere we tread (like the breadcrumbs Hansel and Gretel used to find their way home) track our every move, and seemingly even our thought patterns. I don’t have a Facebook account, but I know that every keystroke I make imprints another portion of my identity into the eternal “cloud.”

You know, I need to take a moment to demystify the cloud. Calling is a “cloud” gives it greater cachet and significance than it deserves. The “cloud” is just a collection of remote data servers, basically hard drives, located outside your computer or device. It does not share the heavens with the Almighty, but lives in scattered, sometimes isolated rooms, in buildings here on earth, fed by long, steel and fiber-optic cables buried underground and under the ocean. It is simply a system of remote data storage, and nothing more. Big deal.

Now back to my mistrust of Facebook. Young people don’t seem to share my paranoia.

The hate of the 1940s caused society in many countries to close itself off and compartmentalize, as a means of survival. Hiding from Nazis and other fascists, extreme circumspection, a lack of sharing of any kind of personal information, were frequently the only defenses against annihilation.

If you look at all of humanity as a huge, collective being, maybe World War II can be viewed as a period of disease in our collective body, brought on by self-doubt (the need to blame someone else for economic and other woes), resulting in self-injury (the brutal targeting and massacre of specified groups), and the consequent need to seal off the wound in order to recover (lack of communication and ultimately the Cold War). Sealing off from other people assured survival. Or at least it seemed so to millions of shell-shocked individuals.

Maybe the Millennium is finding out that being closed off to other people is not the answer.

Maybe we’ve learned something from that. Maybe it’s that by reaching out to others as part of ourselves, we are affirming ourselves and assuring our mutual survival. It seems that the most prosperous human beings are socially adept and enjoy working with a range of other individuals; sometimes to achieve a common goal, sometimes just to catch up, empathize, or exchange stories. This is what makes social media—a vehicle for connecting with large groups of individuals—so attractive.

The impulse to continue to fight and “win” (currently exhibited by more than one aggressive group on the planet) is really an inconvenient anomaly, like an illness, or a virus, and the rest of the collective “patient” (humanity) needs to be patient and optimistic while the disease runs its course. Can you imagine if your liver declared war on your stomach? Or if your hands decided that your feet were an inferior race, and rallied the rest of your body to eliminate them? How far along would you be then?

Glad I could put everything into perspective. What do you think?

How to Get the Job You Really Want, part I: The Basic Basics

This is good advice for everyone, whether you’re looking for a job or not!

Skyrocketing Career

We have been meeting a lot of people who are looking for work lately. Many have sought help from career and life coaches, joined career development organizations, and started success teams in order to stay focused and on track in their search for employment. Finding a good job in this economy is no easy business, and results can take several months, or sometimes a year or more.

It is important to stay the course in your job search. It is easy to get demoralized or even depressed, but there are steps that every unemployed or underemployed person really needs to take to remain sane, hopeful, and happy. Being in a good state, both mentally and physically, is really important right now, because we project what we experience in the world. In order to project good experiences, we need to take care of ourselves and remain optimistic. Even if the prospect…

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When you are in…

When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds:
Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.

Don’t Mess with Teachers–or Matt Damon’s Mom!!

At a recent rally for teachers in Washington, D.C., Matt Damon defended teachers against the old “Teachers get lazy when they have tenure” argument. When the reporter from Reason TV asked Damon if he thought teachers would be more motivated to teach if they didn’t have job security, she made the mistake of comparing Matt’s acting career with teaching, pointing to actors’ inherent lack of job security as a motivator for good performance.

Matt’s response was priceless: “You think job insecurity makes me work hard? … A teacher wants to teach. I mean, why else would you take a shitty salary and really long hours and do that job unless you really love to do it?”  He pointed out the argument against teacher tenure as an “…intrinsically paternalistic view of problems that are much more complex than that…”

When the cameraman piped up that “ten percent of all teachers are bad,” Damon’s mom, standing at his side, asked where he got that number. He backtracked and said, “Ten percent of people in any profession maybe should think of something else,” to which Damon quipped back, “Well OK, but I mean, maybe you’re a shitty cameraman, I don’t know.”

The reporter was attacking Damon where he lives. His mom is a university professor of early childhood education. You had to wonder if the reporter had ever seen Damon in the movie “Good Will Hunting” where Matt plays a janitor at an Ivy League school in Boston, who, because of his social class, is derided by pseudo-intellectuals from a competing school. He redeems himself and the class he represents by besting his wealthy, callow offenders in both intellect and bravura. Damon displayed the same quick-witted skill at deflecting a growing collective condescension toward a favorite working-class scapegoat: teachers. Matt is powerful, convincing, and laudable as a common-sense champion of the people who really matter: those who work tirelessly and conscientiously to educate, and to keep people thinking. You go, Matt.

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The Labyrinth

The labyrinth at Chartres CathedralFeet feel cool stone floor through socks. Mind takes in view of long, curving paths, convoluted like smoothed, stylized intestines. I remember what the white-haired reverend said as he handed me the brochure: “Just give up your thoughts and let go as you enter…”

Aware, peripherally, of the handful of cathedral sight-seers. The lines take me on an unexpected trajectory–I thought I was in this quadrant; now, not having completed that section, I’m in the one to the right. They are all interconnected. Rational mind on the outskirts knows they will all resolve in the end: there is only one exit, which is also the entrance. I ponder this conundrum, which reassures me.

Still, I watch my feet, become aware of my gait. Less agile than I thought I would be, with the weight of years and the world belying my youthful mind. I take the turns less gracefully than expected, so quickly do they double on themselves.

Stay on the path. Remember to breathe. “Breathing is the only autonomic system we can control.” Am I in control of my destiny or is it in control of me? We are one. There is only one path. My mind wanders as my eyes stray upward and meet those of a young bald man in a wheelchair, watching my progress from a corner near the entrance. I break contact, returning concentration to the path. “This is ‘practice,’” I think. Religion is practice: the physical act that allows the spirit to think–or be. No need for endless liturgies or indoctrinations. No one judging. We’re all here for the same thing. My mind returns to my feet. Am I coming back out yet?

I don’t know how I got all the way over here. My mind is a tourist in a strange land, not familiar with the streets. The breath feels restricted, I work hard to slow it down. I remind myself that I will be coming out at the starting point. I seem to be on the outer rim. But wait–I am now heading for the center! That’s right–I haven’t been there yet. How like life, I reflect. We are confused, distracted, not sure where we are headed. But in the labyrinth there is only one way to go: forward.  As the radio talk-show career guru had said, “Don’t look back; just go forward, one baby step at a time.”

Finally, I am in the center of the labyrinth. A big circle with small petal-like motifs on the edges. I feel a sense of accomplishment. I deserve a pause and a bit of “beingness.” I close my eyes, aware of the high-arching limestone pillars all around me, the patches of color thrown on the floor by the sun through the windows. I calm my brain, grateful for an empty mind and the brief inner peace I have achieved.

I am more confident about the journey back, having achieved its complement. I have lost track of time and my place in the journey when I hear the sudden peal of bells. I feel the leonine grumble as each of the twelve bells bongs.

Moments after the last bong, I am aware of the ingress of people through the high door. I feel a sense of urgency to complete my walk, hoping not to interfere with services. The people float past me, engulfed by the cavernous arches, and settle in the pews. My presence is not unwelcome; just a normal part of everyday life that was noted and dismissed. Just as I am wondering how and when I will reach the end, I do.

Silently and reverently, I walk around the outside of the labyrinth to the back pew, where I retrieve my shoes and jacket.