Monthly Archives: January 2013

Working with Friends

An article came across my screen which I printed, highlighted, dog-eared, pinned up, and have lived with these last few days. “Ten Things I Have Learned: Milton Glaser” was part of a talk he gave in London at AIGA, the professional association for design. I wish I could say I was there.

1. You Can Only Work For People You Like

This is a curious rule and it took me a long time to learn because at the beginning of my practice I felt the opposite. Professionalism required that you didn’t particularly like the people that you worked for or at least maintained an arms length relationship to them, which meant that I never had lunch with a client or saw them socially. Then some years ago I realized that the opposite was true. I discovered that all the work I had done that was meaningful and significant came out of an affectionate relationship with a client. And I am not talking about professionalism; I am talking about affection. I am talking about a client and you sharing some common ground. That in fact your view of life is in someway congruent with the client, otherwise it is a bitter and hopeless struggle. 

We’re not all name architects like Milton Glaser, or name anything, but this gave me pause and made me want to throw out everything I had ever heard about working with friends, namely that it would hurt the friendship. With that in mind, I asked around, “What experiences have you had working with friends?” And the response was nothing but positive.

One of my sisters in Boston has hired friends on a number of occasions for assistance in organization, interior design, and dance, as well as piano instruction. “It’s a chance to further develop our relationship, appreciate their work self, and I don’t feel taken advantage of financially. Overall I love and respect their work and it’s much more fun,” she notes.

A friend in Laguna Beach called on a close friend, a landscape architect, to redesign her grounds, and “the contractor we hired to remodel our house was a friend, as was one of the other contractors we asked to bid. I was pretty nervous about asking someone we knew socially to bid, but both of them were so highly recommended by so many people, we had to…. One of the hardest  parts was telling the contractor we didn’t hire that we chose a different contractor. Harder because he was a friend. I got him a gift certificate, apologized, etc. But also ended up recommending them both for a huge job which he ended up getting.” So it all worked.

My sister-in-law in The Bay Area sees her friendships and working relations as one giant crossword puzzle. Former employees have become close friends. At one time she worked for her closest friend for several years, as did other friends. “I would hire and work with them again,” she says. “I think they would agree to work with me,” or in one case, “I would work for her.”

Back in Boston, my sister adds that she “loves supporting (in all ways) and learning about my friends at work.” If anything, “there have certainly been times I’ve had to remind myself not to discuss other things. I deal with my urges by asking if they have time when we’re done or if they’re free to get together later.” Her advice: be selective and look for the most “competent, focused and professional so it’s easy.”

Where I live on Queen Anne in Seattle there exists a culture of “walking the loop,” a four mile route around the top of the hill. Passing under canopies of majestic oaks, walnut, and chestnut trees, overlooking Lake Union and Cascade Mountain Range to the east, Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains on the west side of the hill, many of us aim to do it every day for our souls as well as our bodies. But there’s walking and there’s strolling, so one of our oh-so-fit friends works as a personal trainer for a couple of her friends. She knows to leave her little dog at home, look fabulous in workout clothes, get all wired up with ear buds and music, turn her cap backward and go like a train. Anyone who sees her out walking knows better than to stop and talk; a quick wave will have to do. And now some of us are going with her, including me.

Among those asked, the experiences shared of working with friends were both relationship building and community building. In fact, that was all I heard. To Milton Glaser’s suggestion that you only work for people you like, I would add: and only hire those you like.

And imagine what a different world it would be.

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Altered Books

I am coming off an Inaugural high this week, hoping our country will behave better, the world might find some peace, and that I pay more attention to my writing craft. “Tend to my elephants,” as my friend Teri would say.

Sometimes creativity knows no bounds, and one of the leading literary figures here in the Pacific Northwest, Rebecca Brown, illustrates just that with her “altered books.” Pieces from the series “God, Mother, Country and Rock + Roll” 2012 were recently on exhibit at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, accompanied by some of the “curiosity cabinets” from her nearby writing studio.

“What do I have to work with but words, and words are abstract, they’re not things,” notes Brown. “As a writer I am envious of the physicality of visual art.” And so when she is not writing, “…when I’m flustered, when I can’t get through, when I need to get out of the mode of verbal abstraction,” she has taken to marking up, drawing on, painting, crossing out, cutting, pasting and deconstructing other people’s books.

“I never thought of this stuff as art,” states Brown, “and I still don’t, but now that it’s in a museum, I’m nervous about it and I wonder, ‘is it art?’”

I think it is something like Robert Rauschenberg’s iconic “Erased de Kooning Drawing” 1953, in exploring the very definition of art. Using words as her material, changing their meaning, and transforming the medium, Rebecca Brown’s literary imagination becomes her artistic genius.

And I, for one, am wordless.

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The Long March

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”  Mahatma Ghandi

I can’t believe that we are here. That it has come to this. My head still pounds from the chanting: “Olympia, hear our cry, no more children need to die! Olympia, hear our cry, no more children need to die!….” 

We were 1,500 protestors strong, standing on the grassy Seattle Center Mural Amphitheatre at the base of The Space Needle. We had walked up 4th Avenue from downtown escorted by a police motorcade. A cold snap gripped the region, but for once it wasn’t raining. Gloved hands held signs, gripped coffee cups, and some held the hand of a child along for the march.

A small boy’s handmade sign in the crowd read, “Don’t Sell Guns to Bad Guys.”

The Stand Up Washington March and Rally for Gun Control on January 13th was an event for recognizing that we had reached a tipping point. For turning grief and anger into action.

It was the day before the opening of the 2013 Legislative session, and civic, religious and education leaders assembled to show support for sensible gun legislation. Having drafted the bill to ban assault weapons, State Sen. Ed Murray assured us, “We are going to see movement in Olympia.”

Music threaded throughout the rally, all the old familiar songs: “We Shall Overcome” and “Down By the Riverside” sung by the Seattle Peace Chorus. How many times? I thought. How many times?

Mayor Mike McGinn took the podium. The Space Needle loomed large behind him and a trace of blue in the marbled sky.

“This is the spot of The World’s Fair fifty years ago, where we dreamed of the place where we would want to be one day,” he said. “And once again, today, we are dreaming of the place where we want us to be fifty years from now.”

That’s how it goes, I thought. Inching on, inching on….

How did we get here?

I feel I’ve been here before. Our system is broken and we are shattered.

Longtime gun control advocate Ralph Fascitelli of Washington Cease Fire reminded us that NRA members comprise only 1% of the population in the U.S. Similarly, NYC Mayor Bloomberg insists that “The NRA’s power is more myth than reality.”

Many of us didn’t see this one coming, this war with ourselves.

And yet, we did it before and we will do it again. Didn’t we break the back of segregation, end the war in Vietnam, obtain women’s rights, and most recently, marriage equality in our state?

Easy to feel fellowship at a rally. It really wasn’t until the event was over and we all fanned out in various directions throughout the city, that I fully appreciated our shared community, our humanity. Could it be that we, primarily, are it?

While walking away with volunteers in white Cease Fire shirts, Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, the handsome man in the royal blue turban from SIKHS United Against Gun Violence, various Veterans for Peace, and the Buddhist Peace Fellowship members who squeezed into a small blue sedan, I thought, this is my city, this is my country.

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The New Year’s Resolution that Silenced the Room

It was a small and informal gathering on New Years Eve at the home of a friend we’ll call Teri as that’s her name. Teri is an uncommon person, filled to the brim with inner peace. In the hope that some of it might spill over, I always try to sit next to her.

We dined on roasted turkey and grilled salmon with a blackberry and ginger sauce. We wined and clicked champagne glasses a few times. Three dogs played around the room. Most of us were all of an age where our children have grown and gone. Dogs stick around.

Teri looked stunning. One guest presented her with a scarf which she tied on and wore with aplomb. Next she came out with a beautifully proportioned chocolate hazelnut torte atop a vintage glass cake stand. I noted how much more exquisite baked goods look with a little elevation. Something that bakeries have known for ages, and we have only just now adopted.

With a couple hours still to go to midnight, our hostess was trying to keep the party going. She suggested we share our resolutions for the new year, and since no one spoke up, Teri began. Glasses were filled once again, and we were all seated around the living room and around the storyteller.

She began. Her story climbed like a trek with windings, switches, and sidetracks, and then unfolded, articulating a new years resolution that brought silence to the room. Her story was of elephants and I will do my best to retell.

Many years ago Teri felt the urge to go to Nepal, alone, and signed up for an eco tour. The group would study the Gangetic river dolphin in the remote western region of Nepal. Requiring deep pools of water, the dolphin were endangered by plans to build a dam. But before departing on the expedition, Teri discovered a lump in her breast.

“Medical professionals kept assuring me that in 90% of the cases, the lump meant nothing,” she recalls. “But in test after test, I kept falling into that 10%.”

Suddenly it was time to operate.

The Nepal trip was only two weeks out, and Teri held onto it. In the process, “I became known as the woman going to Nepal, rather than a woman with breast cancer.” She readied herself with packing, got all the required immunizations, and put everything in order in hope that she could go. Most remarkably, she determined that anyone signed up for an eco tour such as this would be either a naturalist or a biologist, and in all likelihood she would find someone to help administer her follow up care. Indeed, her tent mate in Nepal turned out to be an oncology nurse.

From camp, they rode elephants into the jungle. Passengers sat facing out, two riders per elephant, with one driver behind the elephant’s head directing him with a stick. There was no road, no path, just into the jungle they stepped.

“And every time he hit the giant beast,” Teri recalled, “the elephant would reach up with his trunk and pull down massive branches, demonstrating incredible power and strength. It was terrifying.”

But then one of the passengers dropped a lens cover, and by giving a different type of poke the guide  somehow communicated the problem to the elephant. As gentle as can be, the elephant fished around the ground with his trunk, found the lens cap, picked it up and handed it the guide. From that moment on, Teri had a new respect for the massive beast.

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Out of the jungle and down by the river, the elephants demonstrated a playful, gentle, side. The trek continued peacefully following a path alongside the river. At night in the camp while sleeping in her hut, Teri drew comfort from the sound of elephants trumpeting in the distance.

Such was her elephant experience, then came her recent dream.

“In my dream, my husband and I had moved from our house into a smaller apartment. It wasn’t adequate,” she noted, “but I kept insisting everything was alright, it would only be for one year. That’s what I kept saying.”

However everything was not alright.

“I went back to our house to check on my elephants, and they were gone. ‘Where are they?’ I cried.”

“I had to send them off to the butcher,” was the reply.” The butcher!

Teri shuddered and explained her dream as if just awakening, right there on her living room sofa on New Years Eve.

“I believe that the dream was telling me we cannot justify wasting our time, in this case a year. And that I need to think big. I had made my world too small, and elephants don’t breed in captivity.”

“Elephants are all about fragility and gentleness, as well as strength and power. I know what I have to do,” our hostess smiled, “I have to tend to my elephants.”

Then she asked if anyone else would care to share their resolution, and the room was silent. We all knew what we had to do: tend to our elephants too.

Teri Clifford has a Masters Degree in Developmental Psychology. She holds principal’s, administrator’s and special education certificates. Teri is a Reiki Master, a hypnotist, as well as a minister in the Universal Life Church. She advocates for children and their families towards success in life as well as educational settings. Teri also has a healing practice. She lives in Seattle, Washington and can be reached at tericlifford@comcast.net

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