Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘work’ Category

Creating Again and Again

In creativity, Learning, work, writing on February 7, 2018 at 4:50 pm

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” He was talking about people (cough politicians cough) who think they must maintain the same ideas and opinions day after day and year after year even when circumstances change.
Nevertheless, I like to think of myself as consistent in my habits. I rarely miss going to church or to the gym or writing these blog posts. In fourteen or so months of writing 5-7 days a week depending on the season, I’ve only missed two days plus the week I took off when I had an out-of-town visitor. I like to think I’m following Flaubert’s advice to “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Violent and original words may only appear now and again, but if I didn’t write consistently, they may never appear at all.
Almost all successful writers say the key to their success is writing every day, if only because they get better with practice. That’s true of any creative endeavor.
In her popular TED talk, writer Elizabeth Gilbert said you must be at your writing desk every day so the muse knows where to find you.
Recently I ran across another piece of advice from Icelandic singer-songwriter Bjork. The only thing I know about Bjork is that she once wore that weird swan dress to the Academy Awards, which was, I admit, creative although not necessarily in a good way. Anyway, I like her idea that you need to create an even flow. “Don’t hold your breath for five or seven years and not release anything, and then you’ve just got clogged up with way too much stuff.” It’s “more important to sustain that flow than to wait until things are perfect.”
Even though I know that most of my musings are less than gems, and I frequently think of a better way to say something or something better to say after I’ve already put it out there, I continue to write and post and hope that every once in a while my words will resonate with you.
In deference to Mr. Emerson, however, I must admit that I may change my mind about this tomorrow.


Time on My Hands

In creativity, Learning, work, writing on January 24, 2018 at 2:12 pm

“It takes half your life before you discover life is a do-it-yourself project,” said Napoleon Hill. My life is project-based learning, and I need a new project. As many of you know I had a very hard time adjusting to retirement when it came along five years ago. I was bored out of my mind and spent way too much time feeling sorry for myself.
It took a couple of years before I felt entirely comfortable with my life and found things to do to fill my time. I tried art journaling until a friend asked me what the journal pages were for and I had to admit they weren’t for anything, just a way to use some of my creative energy to pass the time. Then I started writing a cozy mystery and researching how to write fiction kept me quite busy for a while. Writing my church’s history for the last 25 years captured my attention last year, but now that’s finished and I’m wondering what’s next.
One friend of mine knits hats for the homeless and another crochets scarves. In previous lives, I have both knitted and crocheted, but having a cat makes that exponentially more difficult. I thought about volunteering at the Cat Care Society because I’m already covered in cat hair, so why not? The thought of giving up some of my free-flowing time for a work-like commitment no longer appeals to me.
What to do?
My friend Sheila wants me to get back to writing the novel. I’m already writing these daily posts, and while that’s totally different from writing fiction, it does scratch the writing itch. As the author, Zadie Smith said, “To speak personally, the very reason I write is so that I might not sleepwalk through my entire life.”
Maybe I’m ready for something really different, even outside my comfort zone, but what would that be?
Note: it needs to be something that doesn’t accumulate more clutter in my house, so no crafts. I’m open for suggestions.

All I Really Want

In Auntie Flat, Home, work on November 28, 2017 at 11:27 am

Life is pretty good. I have the requisite someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to.

Yet, when most people think of what they want, they think of things to have, not things to do or, even better, to be. I tried giving gifts of experiences with limited success. The biggest problem was giving something I thought was great, but the recipient thought was less so. That’s the way it goes. For years, I gave books as gifts to almost everybody until realizing, much to my surprise, that not everybody loves books as much as I do.

The recipients might have preferred a gift card for Amazon, where you can truly get anything you want, including Alice’s Restaurant. Come to think of it, so would I. That won’t get me what I really want, however.


Don’t judge me.

I know I now have plenty of time on my hands, but I don’t want to spend that time cleaning my house. Okay, it’s only a one-bedroom condo. Still I want someone else to clean it, please. Is that wrong? People who offer these services need to make a living, too, right?

And while I’m dreaming, I’d also like someone to cook and deliver healthy, delicious, low-calorie and low-carb meals. Even one meal a day would help. I can handle an egg and turkey bacon for breakfast and a turkey sandwich for lunch, no problem. Dinner gets boring, however, and I usually overcook the meat and forget to include vegetables (unless you count a potato).

While I’m on a roll, let’s include a driver at my beck and call on this list of helpers. Is that asking too much? Yes, I just renewed my driver’s license and got my car fixed, but I never really liked driving.

I’m pretty sure if I had these people in my life, I would be perfectly happy and never complain again.

Santa, are you listening? I promise I’ve been a very good girl.

P.S. Almost forgot the handyman/woman. Please add to above list.

I Wasted Time, And Now Time Is Wasting Me – Gratitude Day 3

In Books, creativity, Learning, spirituality, work on November 22, 2017 at 6:15 am

Our most precious commodity these days isn’t money but time. When we’re young, time is on our side. Now we often wonder what we’d do if we could turn back time. I always valued time more than money, which explains my patchwork career of part-time, temporary “jobs” and also my lack of financial resources.

The most peculiar and familiar quality of time is its elasticity. We mark it off in equal minutes, hours, days and ignore the plain fact that one minute/hour/day is never equal to the next. Some days time drags its feet with the hours taking forever to pass. Other days flit by at a dizzying pace. The first happens when we are waiting interminable hours anticipating something good. The second when we engage in pleasant activities that we wish would last longer. I need less of the former and more of the latter.

I confess to sometimes taking a nap just to pass time. Yet even while I wish time would hurry up already, I’m aware that at age 69, I have a limited amount of time left, maybe less than I think. So the conundrum is always how to spend my hours wisely, enjoying and not wasting them, but not rushing them either.

Author Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” I don’t want to spend my last days and years letting time slip through my fingers, wishing I’d done something else.

Tiny Dancer

In Denver, Learning, women, work on October 16, 2017 at 10:11 am


Yesterday, I met a new waitress at Carl’s named Sam. A petite redheaded twenty-something, she wore an over-sized Bronco shirt with her long hair pulled back into a low ponytail.

Carl’s is a North Denver institution serving pizza and Italian meals for over 60 years. It’s a friendly, authentic neighborhood kind of place. Almost everybody knows John, the owner/cook and customers frequently know one another. Even if they don’t they chat across the booths like it’s a big family meal. The original space contains six red vinyl booths lined up three by three under pictures of Frank Sinatra and Rocky Marciano, plus three two-seater booths by the door. I sit by the window where I can see everything going on. As I watched Sam work, it occurred to me that some people are made for their jobs.

Waitressing is hard work.

You’re on your feet all day, dealing with sometimes crabby customers and men with roving hands all while continuing to smile. Sam juggled her multiple tasks with grace and good nature.

That day most of the six original red booths were full and a few tables in the back as well. Destiny acted as cashier and took orders over the phone. It was busier than usual with fewer takeout orders at noon, probably because the Bronco game didn’t start until that night.

A Denver police Sergeant came in, and Destiny said, “I swear it wasn’t me, Officer,” to which he replied smiling, “yeah, I seem to have that effect on people.”

Two elderly men at another table chatted with him about playing bocce ball while Sam went about her business, seating people, taking orders and delivering orders, delivering and refilling drinks, wiping down tables, supplying placemats, napkins and silverware, writing and figuring tickets, all while continuing to smile and make small talk with the customers, calling everyone Luv.

When they had a few free minutes, Sam and Destiny folded towers of pizza boxes for the rush sure to come later during the game.

Watching someone who’s good at her job and seems to enjoy it is like watching an accomplished dancer performing intricate choreography and making it look easy.

I’m giving Sam this week’s Tiny Dancer award.

And, of course, a good tip.

Sourdough Revisited

In Books, creativity, Learning, work on October 6, 2017 at 9:56 am

Robin Sloan says he splits his time between the Bay area and the internet. Hard to resist a man like that. The author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, one of my all-time favorite books, has a new novel out, Sourdough. Like its predecessor, this book features a young San Francisco tech worker who discovers other interests in real life, although the computer is always there to help out with wide-ranging information.

In Sourdough, Lois Clary works for a company called General Dexterity programming robotic arms to make them perform human-like functions. She joins her fellow “Dextrous” in a diet made of Slurry, a nutritionally complete gel with the consistency of a thick milkshake. It eliminates the time-consuming work of deciding what to eat and food preparation for people consumed by their work.

Lois explains, “I existed mostly in a state of catatonic recovery, brain flaccid, cells gasping. . . . I didn’t have any friends in Sand Francisco aside from a handful of Dextrous, but they were just as traumatized as I was.” Then one night she orders a double spicy soup and sandwich from Clement Street Soup and Sourdough.

It was an elixir,” she says. “First my stomach unclenched, and then my brain.”

When the young proprietors return to Europe, they leave their sourdough starter with Lois, their “Number one eater” and she starts to make sourdough bread.

Once again, Sloan has created a world I’d like to live in and characters I’d like as friends. Take the Lois Club, a group of women with nothing in common except the name Lois. It’s as good a reason as any to form an affiliate group. I wonder if there’s a Dixie Club?

From robotic bakers to manufactured food products to cricket flour cookies and magical yeast, the book is a joyful romp through our hippy dippy organic technoculture.

You really should read it.

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.