Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘work’ Category

Perpetual Student

In Degree programs, Learning, work on June 1, 2017 at 6:36 am

It took me three colleges, six majors, and twelve years to earn my bachelor’s degree.

During my senior year of high school I discovered that my dad opposed my going to college because “Girls don’t need college.” My mom wouldn’t fight my dad. I would get no help from them.

I went anyway.

My grades earned me a full scholarship to Colorado State University, which wasn’t really that big a deal back then. Tuition was cheap. I had enough money from a summer job and an insurance settlement from a car accident to pay for the first year.

I picked CSU because it wasn’t Playboy’s #1 party school in the country as CU was. I didn’t like parties. I was going to college to learn. What a concept, huh?

Almost everything about it I hated—living in a dorm with a roommate, oh, my God. That was the worst. Girls had strict hours, but boys could come and go as they pleased. My one fond memory of that long-ago year was demonstrating against that policy (and getting demerits for staying out past 10 p.m. for the demonstration).

After the first year, I quit, out of money and out of spirit.

I worked in clerical jobs I hated and that kept me on the brink of poverty. Got married. Got divorced.

Then my mom got a job at what is now Front Range Community College, but then was the Community College of Denver, North Campus. Housed in temporary buildings in a field in south Adams County, this college suited me. I fit into the small adult student population of outcasts and misfits and studied sign language.

After graduation, I learned that there were no jobs in interpreting for the deaf and ended up back in a clerical job, this time at the college.

Flash forward a few years and I was sick to death of clerical work and of beating my head against a wall that required a bachelor’s degree for any job that interested me. I pored over the CU Denver catalog and determined that I could finish a degree in sociology—barely—in a year. I figured I could hang in there for one year. Along the way I had majored in art, philosophy, sign language, anthropology, psychology, and sociology.

I quit my job and enrolled at the newly completed Auraria Campus. Once again, my fellow students were oddballs like me. These days they call us nontraditional students. And this time, I finished with both a BA and a Phi Beta Kappa key. I was thirty years old. Having a degree profoundly changed my life, my prospects, and my self image, although it took years to whittle away the chip on my shoulder.

Three years later I went back to CSU for a master’s in adult education.

My mom called me a perpetual student, and she didn’t mean it as a compliment. She was right, though. Although I was through with education, I never stopped learning. That’s why I call my blog the Constant Learner.

You won’t catch me in a classroom these days. My learning is outside the box.

Lasso of Truth

In Learning, work on May 29, 2017 at 3:29 am

It wasn’t a big deal. The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin announced a single showing of the new movie Wonder Woman for women only, and the trolls swarmed all over the internet, probably creeping out of their mothers’ basements. Oh, sorry, was that offensive?

“Have you ever hosted a men’s only showing of any film?” they asked, and “Imagine the sh–storm if there was any male only showing of anything…or a private showing for a specific race or sexual orientation.” Other people said they would pay for men to come and say they identify as women.

The theater responded with, “We’ve never done showings where you had to be a man to get in, but we *did* show the Entourage movie a few years ago.”

It takes me back to when I was the director of the Women’s Center at Front Range Community College. I couldn’t walk down the long main hallway without some man thinking he was terribly clever and original asking why there wasn’t a men’s center. “The world is a men’s center,” was my stock answer.

Straight, white men, I said, shaking my head, rolling my eyes, and sighing simultaneously. I swear. They just can’t handle not being the center of everything. If they’re not in charge, they think they’re being discriminated against.

Not all of them, of course. I know some perfectly lovable straight white men, but I’ve run across my share of stinkers, too. More than my fair share.

Back then, the college was a well-known boy’s club, with men heading every single department. Probably the best thing I did during my miserable tenure there was in 1984 when I asked a friend to make (pink) buttons proclaiming, “Big SISTER is watching you” for many of the female staffers to wear.

One straight white male colleague pulled me aside to whine that the buttons made him uncomfortable, even intimidated. I suppose he thought appealing to my feminine sympathies would make me back off.

He didn’t know me very well. I laughed in his face and said, “Good.” Mission accomplished.

Not nice? I was sick of being nice.

The Alamo Drafthouse isn’t playing “nice” either. Their swift and brilliant response was to open ladies only screenings in several other cities, with some donating proceeds to Planned Parenthood.

They also encouraged the bellyaching men to continue supporting gender equality by protesting the casting of movie leads (71% male) and higher pay for male actors.

Yeah, that’ll happen.

At Leisure

In Books, Learning, work on May 19, 2017 at 1:42 pm

I didn’t want to retire. I even wrote a book about it, although it never got published – Don’t Die Wondering: A Guide to a Non-retiring Life. I suppose I could publish it now on Kindle, but I’d have to update it first, and I’m not interested in doing that, especially since I’m no longer working myself.

When I lost my last job, it wasn’t a surprise, but it wasn’t my choice either. I worked at home on my own schedule editing student papers and doing as much or as little as I wanted. Editing let me be hypercritical (a superpower of mine) without ever having to deal with actual people. I’m not what you’d call a people person.

The university decided that editors had to teach as well, and I was through with teaching. So that was that.

I was retired.

I don’t like the word because it makes me feel useless and irrelevant. Apparently plenty of other people my age agree. AARP uses only initials now to avoid calling its members “retired people.” Dozens of books have been written (and published!) to redefine our so-called Golden Years. They use words such as rewired, retread (there’s a lovely image) refired, reinvented, renewed, recycled, second act, and second wind.

It’s just a word, people tell me, but words matter. I just tell people to say I’m no longer working or better, I’m “at leisure.”

At first I was mostly bored. I went to museums, concerts, and plays, but at best, I was just filling time. At worst, I was killing time. I’m reminded of the saying, “I wasted time and now time is wasting me.”

It took four years for me to start feeling comfortable not working. I’ve found that Parkinson’s Law works just as well now as when I had a job. Leisure expands to fit the time available.

I suppose I could find a part-time job or volunteer, but all I really want to do is read and write and see my friends at church or the gym or for occasional lunches. This isn’t what I envisioned as a non-retiring life, but it suits me fine. For now.


In creativity, Learning, work on May 16, 2017 at 10:20 am

I’m old, fat, and a lousy housekeeper. I’m also smart, funny, and compassionate. I know these things because they play on a never-ending loop inside my head. Sometimes they’re more annoying than an ear worm of “Play That Funky Music White Boy” (you’re welcome) although most of the time I don’t even notice them.

The Buddha called this constant mental chatter monkey mind because it’s like a monkey swinging through the trees who grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another.

For at least 60 years, advertisers have tried to manipulate our behavior by infiltrating our monkey mind and inserting subliminal messages into various media. Since then, almost everybody in the self-help field recommends using positive affirmations to reprogram our minds and help us make positive changes.

Seems a little cheesy to me, and although I’ve tried it off and on, I never could stick with telling myself “I believe in myself and my ability to succeed” over and over throughout the day.

And yet, there may be something to it.

Meet Jon Morrow, paralyzed from the neck down after being born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and then suffering a horrendous car crash, Jon nevertheless graduated from college, built several wildly successful businesses, made millions of dollars and became something of an internet star.

I can only move my facial muscles,” he said, and he lived with a virtual gun to his head, the idea of living “in a nursing home bed somewhere watching TV for 15 hours a day surrounded by other people waiting to die. To me that is the scariest thing imaginable. Instead, he used his mind, which worked perfectly well.

He credits his success to listening to inspirational audio books and podcasts 4-8 hours a day and creating a new reality for himself.

Think about that.

What’s on your playlist?

Listen to Jon’s remarkable interview with James Altucher, another one of my role models.

How to Annoy Your Way to the Top

In Books, creativity, Learning, Lent - Season of Change, work on March 21, 2017 at 12:07 pm

Lent – Season of Change, Day 18

James Altucher is a very annoying guy. He constantly interrupts the guests on his weekly podcast, The James Altucher Show although to his credit he warns them that he’s an interrupter. His insatiable curiosity redeems him and accounts for all those interruptions. “My podcast is about how people in many fields achieved peak performance,” he explains in a blog post. He’s “listening for those moments that need to be unwrapped. ‘I was a real estate developer with a drug problem first’ and you interrupt and say ‘how did you get over the drugs?’ Because they won’t tell you unless you interrupt and ask.”

His technique works. After 600 or so episodes, he has one of the best podcasts out there. The podcast seeks out peak performance and how people in a wide variety of fields achieve it. Ultimately, he interviews people because he wants to learn from them. “When you realize that everyone has something incredibly valuable to offer and you learn to dig for that value, life becomes a lot better.”

His own background encompasses many different professions, from web designer to hedge fund owner. He admits to having made and lost millions of dollars several times over. He has also written several books, one of which, Choose Yourself, consistently appears on lists of best business books. His latest, Reinvent Yourself, is one of my favorite books so far this year. Always controversial, he doesn’t believe in going to college, although he graduated from Cornell and briefly enrolled in a doctoral program at Carnegie Mellon University, and has tried to convince his teenaged daughters to skip both high school and college. So far, they’ve resisted, but he put his ideas into a book, 40 Alternatives to College, that makes some compelling arguments.

By interviewing 200 of his heroes, he learned that “100% of my guests started in one career, and changed at least three times minimum.” Read his blog post to discover what else he learned.

What I’ve learned as a fan of his podcast, blog, and books, is that a consummately annoying guy can also be one of the most interesting people on the planet.

Call me Garbo

In Books, Lent - Season of Change, work, writing on March 16, 2017 at 1:31 pm

Lent – Season of Change, Day 14

I am not a people person. That doesn’t mean I don’t like anybody or that I never want to spend time with other people. Most of the time, however, I crave solitude. I want to be alone.

I was a latchkey kid before we were known as latchkey kids. My mom always said I raised myself, which actually might explain a lot. Looking back on my life from my advanced years, I can see solitude as the organizing principle of my life. My favorite activities all my life have been reading and writing, both of which require enormous lengths of time spent alone.

Debbie Millman calls this your “non-negotiable.” One of the most influential designers working today, Debbie is also a writer, educator, artist, brand consultant and host of the popular podcast, Design Matters.

Her own non-negotiable was living in Manhattan. “I was very clear and very sure that I wanted to live in Manhattan. I wanted that more than anything. And I did whatever it took and made whatever sacrifices I had to.” When she teaches students how to create an artistic life, she asks them to identify what is the one thing they want more than anything? What is the first thing they need to do to make that happen? What are they willing to sacrifice?

I’m not sure I could have named my non-negotiable early in my life, but I can certainly see the value of knowing that – and accepting it — as soon as possible. It could have made some things so much easier.

Top Five Reasons You Don’t Need a Degree to Start a Business

In creativity, Learning, self-employment, work on February 3, 2011 at 9:24 am
  1. Bill Gates

Although no longer the world’s richest man, Gates is still among the list of the world’s wealthiest people. He entered Harvard in 1973 and dropped out two years later to found Microsoft with his friend Paul Allen. In 2007, he received an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, and at commencement, Gates said, “I’m a bad influence. That’s why I was invited to speak at your graduation. If I had spoken at your orientation, fewer of you might be here today.”

2.  Steve Jobs

The founder of Apple and Pixar had to drop out of Reed College after just six months. In a 2005 commencement speech he gave at Stanford University, Jobs credited a calligraphy class he took at Reed College with forming the basis for the typography used in the first Macintosh computer.

3.   Sir Richard Branson

Branson’s first successful business was publishing a magazine called Student, which is ironic since he left school when he was only 16. Today, Branson’s brand Virgin includes Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic Airways, and more than 300 other companies. When he was just 24, Sir Branson bought his own 79-acre Caribbean island. He was knighted in 1999.

4.   Mark Zuckerberg

Another famous Harvard dropout, Mark Zuckerberg developed Facebook in his school dorm. As Facebook’s became one of the world’s most popular social networking sites, Zuckerberg chose to leave school and relocate his company to California. Forbes named Zuckerberg the youngest billionaire in the world, with a 2010 net worth of 4 billion U.S. dollars. He recently donated $100 million to the Newark, NJ public schools.

5. Michael Dell

Dell Computers is another company founded in a college dorm room. Among top ten wealthiest Americans, Dell dropped out of the University of Texas at Austin to run the company. In 2006, Dell and his wife gave a $50 million grant to the University which he attended but never graduated from.

Find more famous college dropouts at the College Dropouts Hall of Fame.

I Need a Place to Hang Out

In creativity, Denver, work on February 2, 2011 at 9:25 am

Pasquini’s Pizzeria is a homegrown Italian restaurant in a turn of the century building featuring exposed brick walls, antique brass chandeliers, mismatched plates, and to-die-for breadsticks and grilled sandwiches. When I walk in, the waitstaff calls me by name and remembers my usual order. They don’t mind when I stay for a couple of hours reading and writing or working at my computer.

It’s what sociologists call my “third place,” a place separate from home (the first place) and work (the second place) where people congregate for social and creative interaction. I always looked forward to going there, until suddenly I couldn’t anymore.

When I got sick last fall and was diagnosed with diabetes, I had to quit going to Pasquini’s because I could no longer eat their food. I miss it and have been looking for another hangout ever since. The local coffee shop discourages people from hanging around taking up their limited table space. A nearby bakery, like Pasquini’s, has nothing made with whole wheat or whole grain bread. Other places in walking distance specialize in burgers, fries, Mexican food, and the like—all off limits to me.

So I continue to search for a place I can walk to, eat the food, and hang around. If you’d like to open such a place, I know a couple of empty storefronts that are available.

Why I’m Finally Reading Un-Marketing and Why it Took Me So Long

In Books, Uncategorized, work on January 12, 2011 at 7:33 pm

I just started reading Scott Stratten’s Un-Marketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging and I’m enjoying it very much. I think it may turn out to be one of my favorite books of the year, and it’s only the second week in January. So why, when I ordered it last September, am I just now reading it?

First, I need to explain that I am a bookaholic. Several years ago, after running out of shelf space, I resolved to stop buying books and instead check them out of the library. That decision has worked pretty well—not that I completely stopped buying books (let’s be honest: that will never happen). But I did start using the library and quickly became what most people would consider a heavy user.

Now, when I hear about an interesting book, my first instinct is to go to the library website and request that it be delivered to my local library branch. I don’t think I quite understood at the time how well this would work. It turns out that the library almost always has whatever book I might want. The only drawback is that sometimes I have to wait a few weeks to get it.

With some books, however, I don’t want to wait, and so I buy those books. That was what happened last fall with Un-Marketing. I’d heard good things about it and didn’t want to wait until it was available from the library, so I bought it. Unfortunately, when it arrived, I had all these books from the library and they had a DUE date when I would have to return them. Obviously, I had to read them first.

Every week, more requested books would appear on the hold shelf at the library, and I had to read them first, too. As the weeks passed, Un-Marketing got buried. I almost forgot I had it. Consider the irony here. I bought it so I wouldn’t have to wait for the library and then didn’t read it because I had to read library books first. I may have to reconsider my book buying strategy.

Then a funny thing happened. I read a tweet from Barbara Winter @joblessmuse pointing me to Scott Stratten’s blog. I learned that many people consider his book not only wildly useful, but also funny. As it happened, I had just finished a book and was looking for the next one to read. Funny as well as useful sounded good to me.

So far, I’ve only sampled a few chapters and have found much to love about this book. The ideas are outstanding, it is funny, and the chapters are short (that may be another post). It gave me several ideas for future posts, so expect to read more about it over the next several days.

Meanwhile, you might want to find a copy. No matter what your business, this book can probably help. Now, I’m going to stop writing and get back to reading.

Computer + Wild West + library = a very good day

In Denver, work, writing on January 11, 2011 at 8:45 pm

I didn’t have much time to spare today. Thirty papers came through for me to review. This is my “day” job, although I can do the work day or night, whenever I feel like it. Anyway, it was a full load and I knew I didn’t have all day to do it.

That’s because today was the day for my birthday lunch with my brother and sister-in-law. We went to the Buckhorn Exchange, Denver’s oldest restaurant and bar featuring over 500 mounted animal heads plus historic artifacts of the wild west. It isn’t exactly politically correct. This time of year, when the National Western Stock Show is in town, the animals sport Santa hats, which strikes me as wildly funny. It’s the kind of place to take out of town visitors. My brother, who’s lived in Denver all his life, had never been there, so I thought it was time for him to go. I think he was pleasantly surprised because the food is quite good (you don’t have to eat Rocky Mountain oysters) and the ambience can’t be beat.

My old writing group met there every other Tuesday for a couple of years and I miss that–the people, the writing, the place. Since I learned that I have diabetes, there are many restaurants that just don’t serve food I can eat any more. Luckily, I can eat the food at the Buckhorn Exchange. I may have to become a regular there again.

After lunch, I had to get to the library to return some books that were due today. Amazingly, I still managed to get all my papers reviewed. It was a good day–the kind that makes me look forward to whatever tomorrow brings.