Surprise … things I thought I loved (or should)

Posted in Uncategorized on January 5, 2009 by barbararuth

1. Live music concerts. This is a hard one to admit. I saw the Grateful Dead over 200 times, which is  a huge part of my self-concept. What I’ve realized is that I loved the community, in that case, enough to overcome what tends to keep me away from concerts – aversion to loud noise and overstimulation in crowds.

2. Political activism. I simply don’t have the patience. I care deeply about a lot of causes but think more religiously than politically about how to effect change.

3. Cooking. The hippie in me would love to fit that earth mama thing, but, if I could afford it, I’d have a full-time, live-in staff!


Back to the Future

Posted in Random Thoughts on October 28, 2008 by barbararuth

I fought my aversion to crowds and went to three music festivals – Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Slow Food Nation, and Outside Lands. I felt extraordinarily relaxed. I felt as if people and events there focused on the present and future. Work these days involves a deadening focus on the past – clerical drudgery that reduces activity to a predictable, “controllable” set of procedures.

I miss fitness training. Despite the sameness of the daily routine, workouts (mine or clients’) pulled my mind and senses into the immediate moment. Strangely I am missing high-technology, too. The next release, the next feature change, the disruptive change anticipated … focus on the future.

Most frustrating – I work in animal welfare right now, a field that desperately needs a future. The sensibilities and authoritarian attitudes are a century behind and the business approaches stuck well behind the millenium. All while the body count grows. Still the most minor innovation is squelched, and a stifling, blundering hierarchy smothers everything.


Posted in People with tags on January 21, 2008 by barbararuth

Six years ago, I took a trip to Atlanta. I visited the King Center, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and the family home where he was born. I also saw an unexpected photo of King at the Margaret Mitchell House — as a child, he sang with the church choir at the premiere of Gone with the Wind. As I sat down to lunch before heading for the airport, I realized I had forgotten to visit the grave.

 Yesterday I saw something on television that gives me a new take about that omission. I watched a biography of Alexander Hamilton. At its conclusion, the scholars commented on the fact that there is no fancy Hamilton memorial site. One said that “we don’t tend to memorialize people who make systems”, that we prefer to erect things like statues to commemorate things like battles. The final speaker said that there is no need for a “Hamilton memorial.” Since he was a primary creator of the Constitution, the federal banking system, and the army, “we live IN his memorial.”

In Atlanta, I was so caught up in the physical and verbal artifacts of King’s life that the grave seemed almost irrelevant.

Diane Middlebrook, 1939-2007

Posted in People on December 17, 2007 by barbararuth

I was sad to learn today that Diane Middlebrook has died. I never worked with Prof. Middlebrook at Stanford; my only encounter with her was over email. When I wrote to ask her for guidance about becoming a biographer, she advised doing what she did — “appointing” myself to a project and “bumbling along.” She offered to help me learn how to organize my research, a task which she said was one of the most challenging parts of writing biography.

I am happy now that I had the presence of mind to write back and thank her when my biography project was published.

Solar Panels at Stanford Synergy House

Posted in Methods, Uncategorized on November 16, 2007 by barbararuth

I found a very cool site about the solar panels installed on Synergy House at Stanford. I was (am?) a member of the cooperative group but lived in a different building, one which was razed after the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. The tradition of exploring alternative lifestyles … environmental, vocational, intellectual … lives on!

Solar Panels demo

The Secret Life of Introverts

Posted in Essays, Uncategorized with tags , , on November 3, 2007 by barbararuth

A friend pointed me to Jonathon Rauch’s article, “Caring for Your Introvert.”

I sighed a heartfelt Amen! One additional thought on being an introvert:

Career counseling books often suggest that introverts make good therapists and counselors because we enjoy substantive, one-to-one conversations. In my experience, this was not the case. As Rauch describes, I absolutely need time alone to think (worth noting, writing is a form of engaged thinking for me, to an even greater degree than it is a form of communicating.) I can give a presentation without anxiety. There is nothing I love more than an opportunity to share ideas with an interesting person, friend or stranger. Counseling didn’t quite fit the bill.

In some ways, working as a counselor felt like engaging in small talk. The job involved taking in the raw content of someone else’s head and helping that person piece it together.  My impulse for helping people who are working something out isn’t to listen to them or talk to them — or even to write to them. It’s to hand them something to read, that is, provide them with some refined thoughts they can use to process their raw ones! I benefitted from therapy myself — largely thanks to one therapist who assigned me reading materials (usually theoretical and academic essays on the issues I was struggling with) and another who gave me inquiries that I could go home and process by myself. The latter therapist even let me hand her pages of writing, the contents of which she would read and work into our discussions.

Psychotherapy today, I think, is an extrovert’s game; the conventions are firmly based on the cultural expectation that “talking things out” is the healthy, normal approach.

Old Wine, New Jar

Posted in Self-Employment with tags , , on October 20, 2007 by barbararuth

I have a freelance gig as a technical writer. The subject — energy-efficiency technology — is something about which my knowledge is minimal. Fortunately, most of the work I do is like a 7th grade English grammar assignment:

Rewrite this paragraph, replacing passive construction with active construction whenever possible.
Liven up this passage by using strong verbs instead of noun strings.
Identify and cut redundant adjectives.

Another data point in the case against credentialism. This work is easy for me because a) I have a knack (It’s too mundane for me to call it a “talent.”) for language that probably can’t be taught, and b) I have a solid base in grammar school grammar. So why did my ability to compete for the job depend so much on a college degree from a big-name school and years upon years of work experience? And why is this company, like many others, so willing to spend money paying the person whose work I’m re-doing — a person who presumably looked good on paper but lacked either the knack or the right training.