What Jane’s Been up to: 2014

Thinking about what I wanted to include in this year’s highlights. The choices were pretty easy, actually, as I’ve spent most of this year attached to my laptop, reorganizing piles of research and interview notes that started in early 2013 and continues to this day. The bright spots include the actual writing, and progress that seemed all too slow at times. 

In between, here’s what the rest of 2014 was about:

Cuba Trip

When an invitation to accompany an Arts and Culture Exchange through the University of New Mexico came up, I jumped on it. It was a fantastic experience, and I cherish the connections and learning I came by during our brief stay. I posted a blog about my trip soon after I returned. I also have our itinerary and links to photos from each day. 

Since the details are available elsewhere on this site, I won’t bother to duplicate them here. I would like to add the significance of waking up to the announcement that the U.S. and Cuba are about to “normalize diplomatic relations,” just posted today.

Regardless of where anyone comes down on this agreement politically, the economic implications along with the opportunities for connecting with another culture and some of the warmest, nicest people I’ve ever met on the road feels like a huge step forward. Between deciding to allow foreign investors earlier this year and the potential opening to the U.S. market, I expect significant changes should I have the chance to return there.

Coast to Coast Road Trips, Part I (West)

An invitation to speak to participants from 15 Montessori schools in southern California had us heading west in January. Starting off with dinner at the Turquoise Room in Winslow (worth the trip just for their soup) and two nights in Sedona, our trip included visits with a few friends, some R&R at a spa in La Costa, a blown radiator in Carlsbad, a walk along the beach at Torrey Pines, visit to Coronado and the cliffs at La Jolla, followed by a day at Joshua Tree National Monument as we headed home. Other than the car trouble (which was competently resolved during the time I was presenting), it was an excellent trip.

The Perfectionism Book and Other Work

April was Cuba, with a couple days at my mom’s on the east coast of Florida before driving to Tampa to meet up with the cruise. This visit included some fun visits with in-laws as well as a meeting with some old friends at Health Communications, publisher of 5 of my books, where I signed a contract for the perfectionism book. At the time, my calendar was pretty wide open after April so I thought I’d be able to get everything done by September. 

As it turned out, a bunch of jobs popped up, which meant I was gone much more than I had anticipated. Since my speaking work is still my primary source of income (and a BIG source of the fun I have in my professional life), I was absolutely delighted. The work also brought me into contact with many wonderful educators—and some old friends, as many of these jobs involved repeat visits to places I’d worked in the past—in cities around the U.S.

Once I started writing, the original outline took on a life of its own, shape-shifting and evolving, with topics added or moved, and much material I initially saw as crucial dropped entirely (although, since I’m still less than half done, there’s always the chance that I may end up pulling some of the material from the “not used” file for upcoming chapters).

I needed a fresh start after a dismal—and toxic—earlier attempt at this book, and in August, dumped what I had written and opened a new document for what would be a very different book with a very different tone. It has taken me months to get the first seven chapters done. At this point, I’m thinking that the remaining contents will require another 8 or 9 chapters, so I still have a long way to go.

This project has been my primary commitment, with other projects moved to back burners. Most of my craft work and social contact has been put on hold (although I have made it to Zumba here and there when I can). I’m enjoying the writing and the learning very much. That said, I’ll be very happy to finish this book.

Coast to Coast Road Trip, Part II (East)

An invitation to our niece’s wedding in Virginia offered an opportunity for Jerry to connect with 5 of his 6 siblings, together for the first time since 1980! Once again, we decided to drive. (And by “we” I mean, Jerry. I got to navigate, make hotel reservations, and find good-sounding restaurants with vegetarian options along the way. Jerry did 100% of the driving on both trips.) So in June we headed east, making a few detours and stops along the way.

A happy surprise when we headed to Florence, AL to see a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian house and passed a sign for the home of Helen Keller. As someone who has seen The Miracle Worker a bunch of times (and still find it an incredibly inspiring story of a teacher’s dedication and persistence), being in the actual home where these events took place moved me deeply. The Wright house tour was well worth the drive, too.

Getting together with my in-laws was a blast and the wedding was beautiful. Everyone (including cousins, nieces, and various relatives and friends) had a great time just being together. How wonderful to be able to gather for a happy occasion. 

I was fortunate to be able to tie in some work about an hour from where the wedding was held, so all in all, we were gone for a little more than four weeks. It was a wonderful trip and the 3-day job turned out to be a good one.

Changes in work, attitude, and tolerance

Although I was completely absorbed with this book, including clearing and detoxing from the frustrating and infuriating trauma of my first attempt to co-author it, I also was pretty busy with speaking engagements.

Reading through my journals from the past year, there seems to be this thread, details of SO many things going wrong. Details ignored, balls being dropped, schedules and venues being changed last minute. People passing the buck. Insufficient and unclear communications. Equipment that didn’t work, rooms that were uncomfortable and unsuitable for connecting with the audience. Speakers going over their time before I was scheduled to present, throwing off my presentation, forcing me to mentally scramble before I took the stage, revising my program, eliminating topics or stories I knew I wouldn’t have time to share. Issues with local transportation or accommodations. Stuff like that. 

None of this was new, and in fact, over the years, I had gotten pretty good at clarifying and double-checking on what I’d need to minimize these kinds of things from happening. But even my diligence and hypervigilance can’t compensate for people’s indifference or incompetence. The main difference was that my tolerance for things that made it harder for me to do a good job was starting to seriously erode. 

And I started noticing that I was increasingly tired—some of it from unnecessary stresses, extra work, or longer days because no matter how many times I checked, things on the other end just weren’t taken care of appropriately. School visits were horrific, leaving me to believe that the fact that anybody in those environments could learn anything was a freakin’ miracle. Abstract, irrelevant, and inappropriate curriculum. The number (and stupidity) of rules, the “gotcha” policies. School politics and in-fighting were getting harder to avoid and were having a stronger negative impact on my work.

I noted that I could still get into the joy of presenting, even with a dead crowd, but frankly I was starting to notice that it was not quite as much fun as it had been for the first thirty years. (I wrote that I kept thinking it would have gotten easier by now. Silly me!) I’m good, but the attachment to these destructive practices is really hard to break through. Worth it for the ones who get it, but I am starting to question how much longer I can keep up the fight.

Fun plans coming up

I end the year continuing to write, and also giving my body a chance to rest from a year that had taken its toll. The usual sinus infections and colds added to a very cranky gall bladder, plus general exhaustion. 

I confirm another Geek cruise, but decide to forego the lectures (Scientific American talks that looked good, but a very different crowd and vibe from the Mac cruises). This itinerary includes stops in the Shetlands, the Faroe islands, all over Iceland, and western Norway. My friend, Jo Ann, decides to go with me, so I wind up the year with a lot to look forward to. 

© 2014, Dr. Jane Bluestein

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