Friday, October 26, 2012

My November Email Experiment #minusEmail

Next week it is the second last month of the year, and 2012 is almost done. So many meetings, so many conversations and wonderful people met. And so many emails...

It has been coming a long time, but I have finally decided to decrease emails substantially in business and personal interaction. And the experiment starts the 1st of November 2012, when I will start my #minusEmail campaign - a mission to convert myself back to better ways of communicating with people. Yes, I have also fallen into the nasty habit of jumping into the email app to quickly to respond to someone, or to address a question.

The article by Shayne Hughes in Forbes made me rethink my use of email. His own experiment was a bit more dramatic:  “All internal e-mail is forbidden for the next week,” he announced to his staff.

He goes on to explain the rationale behind his experiment:

In most companies today, internal email is half to three quarters of all traffic. Reading, processing, managing, organizing, and responding to it absorbs vast amounts of time. We clog one another’s e-mail systems and to-do lists with a mishmash of crucial topics and trivial information and then waste hours of every day slogging through a hundred useless e-mails to ensure we don’t look irresponsible by missing the two or three important ones.

Worse, e-mail is rarely the best medium for addressing the issues and opportunities at hand. It brings us quick questions that don’t have quick answers; long, informative rambles with no clear action steps; conversation chains with too many people cc’d and many of them offering oversimplified opinions. And that’s on a good day.
But it was not the above that caught my attention, but his insight about the fact that email is some times - more often than not - totally inappropriate in business. Buried beneath 'our collective e-mail dysfunction' (as he calls is) is the essential one-on-one interaction between people - respecting each other with our time and effort to meet (or at the very least, to talk) in person. After all, email is terrible when it comes to any form of relationship management. Unfortunately, we have been orientated by a soul-less, corporate environment (that failed humanity in more way than one) to accept email as a great tool to start, mend or end relationships. One step worse - text messages.

"E-mail has become a false way of addressing conflict, and the costs in terms of time and trust are dramatic". From my own business experience, it happened once that a sincere request to discuss a misunderstanding was turned down in favour of an email (deemed sufficient). It was a subtle display of perceived power, arrogance and most of all, insensitivity and disrespect. The impact of it still lingers, because the pro-email choice was a violation of trust - at least a better form of communication would have minimised damage. Efficiency cannot trump Decency. It is the unspoken code between those who live beyond self.

So I accept that E-mail is not a communication tool - at all! What is it then? How could it be best used in my November Email Experiment that I will call #minusEmail or #minUseMail (whatever works)...

I suspect that the emails we read and write have the use to carry imformation, but not much tone or intention. It simply cannot be what it is made out to be... but to build upon the article, it is indeed useful when it is:

Email as a Snapshot: share an overview, like an agenda,
Email as a Note on the Fridge: delegate simple tasks,
Email as a Courier: send on attachments or hyperlinks to inform discussions or decisions, and
Email as MindMap: summarise decisions from meetings

I intend to change my email habits considerably and invite you to do so with me. Call me to discuss solutions, ideas and decisions - or meet with me if you want to make progress putting our heads together.

But don't write me an email unless it adds value to my life, or will increase my productivity and yours. Game on? #minusEmail

Monday, October 1, 2012

the new room mate...

She shares a room with my mom and I have the chance to sit quietly with her for a while. She has Parkinson's Disease and cancer - a deadly combination. And she says she is glad my mom moved in three weeks ago, because everyone else around her passed away - she believed she was next. Now she is not sure any more and it is a good thing... (I wish someone made more of an effort to talk to her about the trauma of losing three previous room mates around her).

She looks troubled today against the yellow pillow case. I ask about her husband and she proceeds to to tells me in broken English (due to dementia) that he has no one else to look after him. He had the flu and did not visit for a few days. And they have no children. She was a medical nurse, highly qualified - worked in the theatre, with much authority. And now she intimately knows what lies ahead for her, but looks at me intently and tells me "this was so unexpected". Life is like that - unexpected. And cruel. I have seen how cruelty plays itself out when life turns a blind eye to good people with good intentions.

I tell her she should not worry so much and that he husband will be fine, because he has a place of his own and new friends. She looks slightly relieved, but totally unconvinced. Her face so pale. (I got a text message this week telling me how pale my mom is, and I think to myself: this, this is pale).

I ask what she worries about most. She is quiet for a while, then tells me softly that she can no longer walk with her husband. And he has to walk alone. This is true. He does. But mostly, he sits alone outside between the summer flowers whenever I come - and looks forlorn and lost. His eyes are constantly filled with tears, and his voice carries bitterness about the smallest issues. He is a man out of control. He is without any ideas. I don't tell her this, but show her the daisies that I picked, instead.

I am glad my mom has a room mate. They don't talk of course, and are on the opposite sides of the room - each at a window. They only really share the morning sun and the same sure future - the unknown road that we shall all travel. On this International Day of Older People I cannot help but think about the way that society - children and grandchildren of older people - throw away the people that cared for them once. Emotionally disconnected, they make their 'loved' ones the responsibility of others who often have no choice but to step into the gaping emptiness of their disappearance. Strangers becoming family. And I wonder - how did we become like this? Such indifferent people in a shared, fragile humanity with way too many myths about age and getting older. We should reframe what it means to be old.

My mom has a room mate. She has a tiny broken body and life is cruel. Both of them - actually. We are told too many times that there is something disturbingly wrong when we speak of the illness and the pain, and are not happy-go-lucky... As if this is an indicator of success - superficial happiness.  I wish upon my friends true joy as we all get older one day. Not make-believe pretence that everything is well - while you actually starve financially, or emotionally. We deserve real relationships in our lives. 

But the truth is, we already have those room mates that share in hardship and in pain, and we should have our eyes wide open when we connect. This is real. Not the fairy tales. But these unspoken, unexpected unfairnesses in life itself that we share - injustice one way or another. Each to their own. And no one deserves death, but we all get it - eventually. Inevitably part of a cycle of life itself. So on our way there, why don't we just make it a bit more liveable for those that are closer to the end of this cycle than we are - then again, even this fleeting thought is just a perception of reality. Because, who knows when?.... 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Spiced Life - Bland Days

My mom survived the pneumonia. She continues to battle in her quiet space with Alzheimer's and I hate this disease. Still. Always.

I find myself fighting off emotions of powerlessness and sorrow throughout every single day. It lives in me like a breathing, growing thing. Nameless. It keeps me awake into early cold hours, and serves strange nightmares to me that I dissect for clues in the winter's nights.

I think of my mom's empty days now - bedridden and bland in her room at frail care. She is so entirely at the mercy of carers - all overworked, underpaid and stressed. I stop short of berating myself for not being with her 24/7. I ask her forgiveness many times in a week and keep my mind in a different place than my heart to stay sane.

My gentle gardener, Lovemore, comes on Sundays and works tenderly with the Daisies along the hedge. The ones my mom loves. I stay home and do not go to visit my mom as planned - feeling sick. Physically. Emotionally.

He tells me of the spice factory of MrO where he works for R100/day - and where he is not allowed to wear a mask to work. He is Malawian and desperate enough to sort spices into small bags, but tells a story about burning peri-peri tears at night and sneezing, runny noses filled with cinnamon. And I think of the text message I got earlier to say that a tear ran from my mom's eyes. Now I have that - too - in my phone. I try to forget it. I fail repetitively.

My heart cracks a little bit more for both of them when I find myself alone - for her and the bland life she barely lives. Forgotten by so many. And for him, with the mixed spices that makes him fear for his health...

And maybe for me - with a life that I did not imagine: filled with memories of soft spices from my mom's kitchen, and her recipe books in my study but with little taste or energy left for this moment...

Tomorrow may be different.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The World Slowly Empties #RememberMeNot

I have been having such tough time with words these days. It seems, in some ways my mom's loss of language resonates in me and makes me fall into a silent place where only my own thoughts circle round and round. And memories of her, of our family. Sounds a bit dramatic maybe, but the thing is: this is not an easy time to express what lies within, or worse, in front of us. Yes, my mom's "world slowly empties" and I have seen it happening. Unable to stop it since I found out about it about this terminal disease - with its research so under-funded. My own world slowed down and sped up simultaneously - determined by her loss of being.

And then a small miracle happens: Dementia SA and M&C Saatchi Abel teams up, and do something spectacular: visually, beautifully, and strikingly true - and real, very real: an application using FaceBook titled #RememberMeNot > You can also watch the app via YouTube below if you are hesitant (no need really) to give it access via FaceBook:

I became vaguely aware in the periphery of my mind about this app with some scattered tweets mentioning their good work:
But it was only this evening, via Kayli Vee Levitan @KayliVee in a direct message that I really sat up and paid attention. Too much has been happening I guess. My mom takes in fluids with a needle. But I am glad I paid attention, because this app does what I have failed to do so far - or so it feels. (And I am determined to spread the awareness about it, and its message). It asks what I have hesitated to ask: just try and understand this illness for the sake of those you love: Alzheimers & Dementia steals life and it leaves emptiness. On 31 October 2009, I wrote the Afrikaans poem "sy is gesteel" about the loss I felt, created by this empty space of her. Do not leave as well. Do not "unfriend" in real life - how much worse can it get for her? (Find my mom's page in FaceBook: "Vriende van Joey Steenkamp")

The irony is that it is often not the sufferer of Dementia that forgets. It is the onlooker, the trusted long-time friend, or beloved family member, by their choice. My mom has been loved all her life, but the past few years she has been forgotten by so many that could not bear to come close to her forgetfulness and confusion, and her suffering - from early on already, and especially now that she enters the final phase of her life. She did not forget to love, but has been left standing on her own - emptied of people - not because she cannot remember their names, but because it is easier for some not to remember her right now (I think).  

Quite a few say, "I really don't want to see her like this" and then I cannot help but wonder: what about her not seeing you? (And I truly understand, because I do not want to see her like this either. I, her confidante and only daughter, have other memories I wish to hold sacred and superior in my own memory banks). Or another would be concerned, "she would not recognize me any way". Hang on, don't you realize that she will feel less isolated and more loved when you are close? Hold her hand. Say a prayer. Watch some TV together. Not being recognized is a small price to pay for what she gains in return: being recognized. Being less alone. Less emptied. Please, I do not blame any one, I am just so sad and so disappointed. I cannot bear to think of the cruel emotional treatment she suffered due to ignorance of this illness, like talking about her when she stands right there next to me. And I see her hurt. But now I think, instead, of the kindness I have seen with others that love her. Or even those who care for me, without even knowing her. It helps me carry on.

Thank you so much for this application. I like Dementia SA. I have wondered if my mom would have liked FaceBook (like some of her friends, her age - like Gwen Olivier, her school pal). I have come to the conclusion that it is better she was never in social networks herself... so many faces and too many clever quotes, and many many beautiful pictures, but too few tea time talks and even less human touch. This is what we know and remember of her - her ability to love in real time. To give in spite of herself To live a life filled with people. Not things. And not empty.

My mom is a dignified woman, and maybe (if she could) she would say: Please #RememberMeNot as the illness or my mind broken like it is now. It does not define me. #RememberMeNot for the words I used, or did not have - or the choices I made when I did not know a better way. When no-one knew. Remember me for the way I cared about you. For my heart.

Lief vir Moeks.

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