Furloughed Forgotten

We’ve hit Day 28 of the partial Federal shutdown.

The moment the shutdown began, the media started talking about the 800,000 Federal employees who would be affected—either required to work or not allowed to work, both anticipating their next paychecks wouldn’t arrive on time (and they didn’t).

But in addition to those Federal employees whose lives have been disrupted, contractors are getting hit by the furlough as well. They garner an occasional mention in the news stories about government shutdowns.

But broadly there’s a limited awareness of the roles of contractors and how their affected by the the shutdown. You see this in comments such in the vein of, It sucks that feds aren’t getting paid right now, but they’ll get paid later.

Yes, Congress has already passed the bill to guarantee federal employees backpay. That does little to alleviate the financial and emotional tolls of today.

But that bill also does nothing for those who are contractors. In shutdowns past, many contractors have just had to take a loss. Their employers don’t get paid for the time, so often neither do the individual contractors. (In some locales, their employers can mandate use of PTO to cover compensation, but it depends on state and local laws—and that of course has other consequences.) This week Senator Tina Smith introduced a bill to get contractors backpay (at least for low-wage workers arguably hit hardest by the shutdown).

A lot of folks who aren’t US citizens or permanent residents work for the federal government—generally as contractors due to requirements for federal employment. They face another stressor in times of shutdown—visa status. Some employers continue paying their foreign workers in the US to continue fulfilling the visa requirements, money the firm hasn’t in the past been able to recoup. If the firm can’t afford/won’t cover the wages and the shutdown drags on another month, then many contractors’ visas will be out of status (unless they find employment elsewhere).

Federal contractors include a wide range of positions. Many of them are low-wage workers. The shutdown is devastating a lot of people’s lives. All because of a presidential tantrum and a submissive/cooperative GOP leadership.

Some thoughts on the short shutdown in 2018 remain largely relevant today:

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#januwordy: Thrive

Just a few weeks ago, goal setting was the topic everyone was talking about. It’s inevitable as the changing of the year approaches. Over where I co-blog about running and related things, I wrote about setting SMART/smart goals. The latter brought me back to a concept I picked up last year of selecting a theme or mantra for the year.

As I considered my running goals, I thought about a theme that would fit, not just for fitness but for life more broadly.

It started with a single word: thrive.

The word carries particular connotations for me. It prompts an image of a healthy, growing plant, or even a lush, active ecosystem filled with flora and fauna. It communicates to me both growth and calm. There’s a sense of freedom to thriving. There’s still plenty of activity and change, even work and effort involved, but not in a way that translates to exertion and exhaustion. (Maybe this just reads like, “work but not work.” An image is worth a thousand words, and maybe I’m not finding the best ones to communicate the image in my head.)

I set building as my theme for 2018. There were enormous changes in my life last year. As I reflected on 2018 a few weeks ago, another word came to mind: striving. 

Like thrive, strive has certain undertones in my mind—exertion, trying. There’s a sense of push, even struggle. It prompts me to think of high intensity intervals, workouts when I, for instance, sprint hard for a quarter mile, even up to a mile. At the end of that interval, I’m gasping for air, my legs are burning, and I feel like I don’t have one more step. Then the recovery period begins, a walk or a slow jog to catch my breath and my legs before going again.

Striving is a good thing. “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you,” a gym instructor would say in the midst of a challenging interval. But high intensity intervals, while incredibly beneficial, are just one element of training. Variety is the spice of life, and if your ultimate goal is to go a long distance, you have to put in long, easy miles. And if you want to do it for some time to come, then every effort can’t be a slog. If it is, that’s a recipe for burnout.

In 2018, I had an injury that forced me to stop running a few weeks and derailed delayed a major goal. There were some bumps (to be expected) in moving into full-time residence with my partner, but eventually we settled in. My new job brought some challenges too.

Transitions—new place, new responsibilities—are always stressful. But my supervisor normally would have contributed heavily to my training and development but wasn’t able to at the time time. He provided guidance as needed, and my co-workers were very helpful in bringing me up to speed, not just on structure and approach but also on vision and culture. I forged ahead and figured things out, but I felt tentative, beyond the typical new job jitters. And then my supervisor died. Oddly, after the initial period of shock and grief, I’ve started to move a couple of projects forward, slowly, even as we search for a new director.

As I reflected on the year behind and the year to come, I found that I felt I’d been in the strive space and wanted to find the thrive space. There is still a place for reaching and pushing in the latter, but I’m looking to find my stride—the point where I’m moving with purpose and pace but a certain level of comfort and confidence.

When I described my 2019 mantra at Boundary Conditions, though, I set it as “progress from striving to thriving.” I wanted to acknowledge that, even if I find that “thrive space”, it’s not going to be easy or flawless or constant. There will ever be times and places to strive, when struggling is part of the process. I wanted to frame my theme as progress over perfection.

As I’ve spent more time meditating on this mantra, I’ve realized that this little token perhaps captures what I’m looking for.

Flat gold ring with an imprint: "FIND FLOW"

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#januwordy: Magic formula

Over the years, a few fantasy stories relying on magic (Harry Potter, The Green Rider) have captured my interest. The crux of the stories is often formulaic.

Generally there is some hereditary component. In some cases, certain species wield magic while others cannot. In other stories, children whose parents were adept at magic typically have some power, even if they were not raised by their parents. Of course, as with many genetic traits, magic sometimes “skips” an individual or generation.

Occasionally you also find individuals from “non-magic” lineages. Perhaps if you trace back family history, you might find an ancestor with magical abilities. Or maybe it’s just a random mutation.

Whether inherited or not, though, a character has to start with an innate ability. A kid with no magic power doesn’t develop it just by trying really hard. (Magic clearly provides a basis for exploring genetics, and the world does not disappoint. It’s part of a lesson in the National Library of Medicine exhibition Renaissance Science, Medicine, and Magic in Harry Potter’s World.) Perhaps on occasion, magic is “bestowed” upon an individual but usually at a price.

A core tenet of magic stories is that those who do have an ability have to practice. They can use their power without training or practice, but typically there are limitations. The results of “raw talent” are sporadic or uncontrolled or exhausting. They need instruction and guidance to harness their potential. On the flip side, someone with average magical talent can excel by spending a lot of time practicing, doing a task over and over again until mastered. (We hear similar true stories of individuals with incredible aptitude for sport, music, chess, and other activities.)

Another central theme is light versus darkness. Inevitably there is someone with great magical power to fight. (Let’s face it: They’d be pretty dull stories otherwise.) Often they have a similar origin story as the protagonist or another “good” character in the story. In fact, it’s not uncommon that they were trained by the protagonist’s mentor but became corrupted in some way. This is the ages old story of power and the effect it has on people.

The antagonist typically has greater power and a mighty force behind them. They may draw in those at the fringes of society, sometimes those who have suffered from or been left behind in the progress of the dominant “good” society from which our protagonist hails. Sometimes they create their armies, from the dead or by transforming captives or bending creatures to their will. The recruitment approach can prompt us to examine what the cost of “progress” and how “good” societies are built. The creation strategy is effective from a storytelling standpoint, because it clearly communicates to the reader that the antagonist has no boundaries.

The end comes down to a showdown. The odds are stacked against our protagonist. There’s no way they should be able to win. They struggle valiantly. They come to the verge of defeat. Then, just as all hope is lost, a solution appears—sometimes magically. Our protagonist overcomes. It is the antagonist who falls, shocked by their demise at the hands of this underdeveloped upstart.

Despite the formula, these stories of magic can still be fun to read.

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#januwordy: Collectors

Humans are collectors.

You may not consider yourself such because you don’t have art on your walls or a curio case filled with trinkets or a box where you store figures. But there’s almost certainly something that you collect.

Over the years, I’ve moved multiple times, from 10s to 1000s of miles between places. Each time I feel compelled to reduce my belongings. I know that they’re likely to expand again, but in moving, there’s an opportunity to consider each item and the space it fills—literally and metaphorically—in my life.

I am a collector of books. I have at times culled deeply, yet there are ones that have followed me to four different cities and more phases of my life. I am a hopeless practitioner of tsudonku, buying a book and leaving it unread.

I have held on to fewer and fewer trinkets over time. A few hold particular meaning, in how they came to me, who held them before.

I’ve kept my finisher medals for the half marathons and marathons and other runs I’ve done. In part, they take up comparatively little space. In part, they serve as reminders of what I’ve accomplished, things that at times seemed almost out of reach. In part, they also serve as prompts to set new goals and to test my limits in some way.

These baubles are tangible expressions of something else we, something that even the most minimalist person can and often does, collect: experiences.

Certainly there are experiences we’d prefer not to collect, though each one shapes and influences who we are and who we are becoming. But I’m thinking more of the experiences we seek out—the races we choose to run, the places we travel to, the challenges we set for ourselves.

Running coach David Roche suggests that race day should be a “celebration” of your training. It may be tough, but it’s the pinnacle, the thing you’ve been working toward a long time. It’s something you wanted, something you chose—shouldn’t it be a commemoration not a commiseration?

Sometimes the experience disappoints, and sometimes it exceeds our wildest expectations. What we can often miss is that the experience isn’t just this one moment in time. It’s the work in the moments leading up to it as well. It’s the efforts we expend building, preparing, testing ourselves.

The trinket is just a reminder of the celebration. The celebration is just one point along the way. The preparation is what truly changes us.

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The Anger of a Woman Running in the Dark

I had been running 2.5 miles already as I started the familiar loop around a small lake. I cruised along, clad in a reflective vest and using a headlamp to illuminate the feet of path in front of me and to be sure drivers and bikers could see me.

There didn’t seem to be as many runners as normal. It was dark and a bit later than my usual time. Though it had let up by now, the rain had been rather heavy earlier. I passed a pair of women heading in the opposite direction, and then was alone again.

I continued. Unexpectedly a figure emerged from the shadows of the path ahead, clad head to toe in black, face mostly hidden by a dark cap. I tensed. It took only a few seconds, honestly probably fractions of a second, to process that this was just another pedestrian—light bounced off the tiny reflective logo, hands in pockets and head tucked down against the cool air and the drizzle of the night, traveling a straight line, no sudden or unexpected movements.

Though my feet kept moving, there was a brief debate in my head. This was one of the “better” parts of the path. The trail I was on is literally next to the road. Some of the parallel streets are heavily trafficked, others often quiet, but if something were amiss, would any drivers even notice? The trees and bushes along the way aren’t densely packed, but they are sizable, large enough to obscure a figure in the dark.

I decided to keep going. This was fear not caution, and I wasn’t cutting my run short for that. Yet I couldn’t stop thinking about the scenario. Kelly Herron fought off an attacker in another Seattle park two years ago. Three women runners have been grabbed and groped, not far from where I was running, in recent months. Nationally there have been many others, women harassed, assaulted, disappeared, murdered just going out for a run.

When something prompts me to run through the scenarios and the precedents, the fear doesn’t last very long before it turns to anger. When something happens to a woman runner (and other women as well), there’s a chorus of scolding and advice, not just for the victim but for all women engaging in similar activities.

She shouldn’t run alone.

She shouldn’t run at that time of day/night.

She should carry pepper spray.

She shouldn’t run there.

She should take a self-defense class.

She shouldn’t be distracted by music.

She should be alert at all times.

She… she… she…

Broadly I’m the sort of person who considers risks and what I can do to mitigate them. But I run for the joy of it. I don’t want to carry a reminder of my insignificance. I know that these are relatively rare events, but I also know that, should anything ever happen, I will, in many eyes, bear some responsibility for it.

Then I see men post about lacing up and heading out for a late night run. By appearances, they don’t give it a second thought. They may even laud the tranquility of the hour. I wonder whether anyone’s warned them about the dangers of their activities.

Or is it just the women who are supposed to guard themselves in the spaces we dare to take up in the world?

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