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Techniques for balance:

  • Reassess the worth of all the magazines you read. You can probably reduce them by a third or more. Many are duplicative and some are just habit. I swore I couldn�t get along without Time Magazine, which I had read for 25 years, until my subscription got fouled up and I didn�t receive it for three months. I never missed it, nor was I deficient in current events. My reading was simply force of habit.
  • DO unsubscribe from electronic mailings, newsletters, and spam. My experience is that this does not increase the volume, but that the legitimate providers do, indeed, honor our request, and many of the others were unaware you were on an inappropriate list. (So many people just grab their data base forgetting who�s on it.)
  • Reorganize one troublesome area a month. It could be as minor as a jewelry case that�s driving you crazy. Don�t tackle immense projects, like the garage, but break them into component parts, like the work bench or shelving. You�ll find your life getting simpler and better and more in control.
  • Hire someone to do the menial jobs you hate. If you love spending three hours on a tractor cutting the grass, or a half-day cleaning windows, by all means do so. But if you don�t, there are all kinds of inexpensive alternatives these days which can lighten that load. (There are even people who come to remove pet waste from yards.)
  • Keep a supply of �thank you� notes on hand and write one out and send it in the regular mail whenever you receive a gift, lagniappe, or beneficence. If they are on your desk, you�ll do it quickly. If they are not, you�ll procrastinate so long that you�ll be perceived as rude.
  • If you suspect you may face a wait, prepare for it. Bring a book, write a letter, meditate, chat with a colleague, memorize a speech. But if you�re going to the doctor, the division of motor vehicles, the voting precinct, or the parent/teacher conference, and you�re not prepared to use idle time, you don�t deserve to have the time.
  • Compliment someone. Tell them you like their hair, or the food, or the advice, or the job they�re doing, and you�ll have created a more pleasant dynamic and potentially productive conversation. (�I just love the way you don�t care about style,� is passive-aggressive, and is not going to cut it.)
  • Arise, depart, and go out. Get away from your desk. Take a walk outside. Go do a minor errand. You'll find it rejuvenating.

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The Unforgiven

There roams amongst us The Unforgiven. Their crimes are so great that they cannot achieve atonement.

They usually have one main malefactor, who is unceasing in condemnation. Their sins are grave:

  • They do not sufficiently help others. Others� problems should be their own, and they provide insufficient support for others they meet.
  • They have unwarranted success. They have been lucky, not gifted, and they are doing better than others through circumstance not talent.
  • They are selfish. They tend to their own comforts and pleasures without ensuring that others are well taken care of. They don�t understand that they have no right to be happy so long as others are unhappy.
  • They do not heed others� advice. They ignore those who have taken it upon themselves to unilaterally provide help and insight, and instead merely go about their own way.
  • They have too much independence. They have ignored their parents, or been strict with their children, or have distanced themselves from friends. They are more bent on individual worth than communal existence.
  • They relieve stress. Instead of internalizing the stress around them, even to the point of illness if necessary, they instead tend to vent and relieve the stress, even if it forces others to deal with issues without them.
  • They resist peer pressure. They make decisions based on merits and self-interest. They may be the only one at times resisting the allure of the herd�s direction.
  • They abandon stereotypes and dump their baggage. Despite years or reinforcement of who they are and how they act, they insist on behaving in new ways, exploring new vistas, and testing new talents.
  • They don�t project their shortcomings on others nor others� weaknesses on themselves. They face each challenge as an individual and explore it without preconception.
  • They are insufficiently apologetic. Even when confronted with their inadequacies and sins, they don�t truly atone, don�t truly regret, don�t truly perform penance.

It's no wonder that these are The Unforgiven, nor that they have a consistent malefactor. You may be curious about The Unforgiven and the critic. If you are, just look in the mirror.

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The Grinder

When I was very young, sometime around 1950, I lived in a densely populated, poor city. We played stickball on the side streets, in between cars, with sewer plates as bases. (First, we had to steal a broom to make a bat�.)

I remember the monthly ring of a huge, hand carried bell, as big as a football. A man would wearily walk down the block with a primitive grindstone strapped to a framework on his back. He had to be, even with the exaggerated sense of age the very young have about adults, in his 70s. He slowly rang the bell, the clapper promoting a lonely and melancholy sound above whatever traffic was present.

He would reach the corner and laboriously take the grindstone off his back. Having relieved himself of the burden, he would shout out, �Scissors, knives, sharpen your scissors and knives!!� all the while ringing the bell between shouts. As I watched, windows would open amidst the assembled apartment house window rows like cavities among a set of teeth. Women would wave, indicating that they were on their way down. (Women were home in those days, �keeping house,� raising the kids, preparing dinner.)

�Scissors, knives, a penny each!!� He changed his chant now that he knew he had customers. Each implement was a penny. People had little money, and a scissor or set of knives was meant to last forever, so sharpening them for a penny was a wise investment.

Finally, the women on the lower floors reached him, an advantage of avoiding the lines once those from upper floors descended. His chant finally stopped, his bell was stilled next to him, and he would turn the grindstone in its framework with his foot while holding the implements to be sharpened in his hands. I was astonished at his fearlessness amidst the sparks, and the speed of his work, despite gnarled hands and stooped shoulders. I didn't know what arthritis was, but I did know a tired soul when I saw one.

Each woman would pay their penny or few cents and withdraw with the knives and scissors in their hands, or in a pot, or held basket-like in their aprons. Finally, the line was done. He had made perhaps 25 cents, and he knew that the business on this corner was done for another month or so.

Carefully, he lifted and secured the two tools of his trade, and staggered on up the block. Like clockwork, I could hear the bell peal again in a couple of minutes as he reached the nexus of a new neighborhood, and I�d mouth the words in between the calling of the bell, �Scissors, knives, sharpen your scissors and knives.�

I had no recall of exact times, but I knew that he arrived with periodic regularity. I knew of no one else exactly like him, though we did have door-to-door salesmen, coal delivery trucks, and the ubiquitous milkmen every morning. It was a part of life.

Then, one day, I realized that he had not come in quite a while. No one ever replaced him and I knew, even then, that no one ever would, that he was the last of his kind. I had seen the last moa, the last Tasmanian tiger. I missed him greatly. I missed his hard work, his routine, his ancient grindstone and his huge bell. And I missed the congregation of women who communed briefly on the street while he plied his trade and gave them respite from their labors.

My life is so different today, and I count my blessings. But I know this life is based on so many experiences and memories like the one I�ve recalled here. And sometimes, when the day is just right, the sun is high overhead, and I notice some women on a corner, I can see the shadow of a hard working man, and hear the distant echo of his lonely bell ringing up the street�.

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I�ve stopped at a light and the other cars have lined up behind me. No one is in the lane next to me, because no one wants to give even the inadvertent suggestion that they want to race from the light against one of the most powerful cars in the world.

Not that I would do that, of course. I�m too mature.

I realize, however, that I need to get into the other lane once the light changes because I promised to pick up coffee for Maria, and she likes the flavors at Dunkin� Donuts (and I can�t pronounce the sizes at Starbucks). Peripherally, I note that a car has pulled up late in the other lane, hovering in my �blind spot,� and I anticipate that the driver will rush forward when the light changes in an attempt to surprise me.

The light turns green and I give the car a tad extra gas, use my directional signal, and smoothly pull into the other lane, now well ahead of everyone, including the latecomer. I finally check my rear view mirror and see a local police car behind me, which I�ve just managed to race away from and pull in front of.

I meekly wave, sink into the seat, and miss the driveway for Dunkin Donuts�.

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