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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Corporate Earthquake

The foreign investors pulled the plug, and all hell broke loose at the plush, high-rise corporate offices in Crystal City, VA. Button-downed and politically correct employees scrambled to clear out their desks.

In their frenzy, the Ivy League educated, well-connected staff began to loot whatever wasn’t nailed down: expensive wall art, executive custom chairs, and office equipment they could carry. I was suddenly and unexpectedly thrust into a corporate earthquake, and those around me seemed to lose their reason.

Equipment was angrily yanked from walls with outbreaks of enraged profanity while books and files were furiously stashed into boxes and leather briefcases…and somewhere the sound of a woman crying.

Chaos engulfed the well stated, appointed offices that overlooked the Potomac River. The transformation of respectable professionals to vandals and looters caught me completely offguard.

Pandemonium from former think-tank and government deputies seemed inconceivable, reduced to a lawlessness akin to Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness, a collapse of the established order.

Always composed, polite and distant, the power elite were out of control as their business went belly-up. The Washington facade cracked and crumbled as people panicked, propelled into survival mode, grabbing what they could as the apocalypse ensued.

Sophisticated Washingtonians who never seemed impressed or affected by anything became plundering members of a street gang in a matter of minutes as the rumor that the company was shutting its doors spread like wildfire throughout the glass-enclosed offices.

I fled, a refuge from madness, and escaped from the office chaos to the safety of  my vehicle in the underground parking garage to emerge from another day of business in Washington.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Businessmen by B S K

Crystal Tower Photo by Daniel Battiston

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Different Kind of Tree Hugger

This week the tree behind my terrace was cut down. It was a victim of drought and greed. Its former golf course owners sold the land to a developer, and the tree lost its caretaker.

I am up on the second floor, and though the tree was 20 feet away, it was a wonderful privacy screen for me and home to mourning doves and humming birds. Strangely enough, I was having a bad dream and woke up to the buzz saw and the tree’s mangled corpse outside my terrace.

I have a special kinship with trees.  Even though I grew up with asphalt and concrete in an apartment building in immigrant Chicago, I loved trees and envied the girl in the house behind the apartments who had trees and a yard to play in. I told myself that someday I would be in a home embraced by trees.

And my wish came true. After I married and was living in a small, bedroom community in central Illinois, we moved onto a five acre, semi-wooded lot with wonderful, century old, sugar maple trees.

With all that land, being a former city kid, I eagerly planted a huge vegetable garden and experienced great delight watching the surrounding trees change their wardrobes with the passing seasons.

We even drank the sap from the maple trees, nectar fit for the gods. Nothing manufactured measures up to fresh maple syrup’s unique and rich sweetness tapped from the source.

One buckeye tree had the honor of housing a tire swing for my children plus offering beautiful mahogany nuts every fall for Xmas wreaths and decorating the fireplace mantle in the winter.

I experienced a cathartic therapy from trimming the branches and letting the trees breathe and more light shine through. It was as if the trees knew I was caring for them, and I sensed their appreciation.

During a troubled divorce period, pruning the trees helped me redirect my frustration and anger by cutting off the dead branches, allowing new shoots to grow.

But I couldn't protect them from nature’s fury. For two years, tornadoes spiraled through the Midwest with a vengeance. Spared one year but not the next, a fierce tornado tore my beloved sugar maples out of the ground taking away their beauty and protection.

I took it as a personal loss as my friends and guardians were devastated by the unrelenting winds. In the spring I planted redbud trees further back in the forest giving them more shelter from the storms.

When I moved to Virginia, my new home came with stately white oaks for a hammock and a playground for squirrels, Baltimore orioles, blue jays and wrens.

Only on a third of an acre on a cul-de-sac, these trees also attracted possum, occasional raccoons and even a fox.

It was my wooded sanctuary, harmonious and nurturing. The trees gave me a sense of being grounded and balanced while I watched my children grow up.

Once again nature tested the trees. They were besieged by gypsy moth caterpillars, hordes that were out of control and devouring forests at night. The white oaks were under attack by a relentless pestilence. Every day I removed the obnoxious caterpillars feeding off the trees and weakening them. The battle seemed endless, but I persisted to save the trees.

During that “infestation” period, I also was fighting an inheritance battle with my father back in the Midwest over my mother’s will which split the proceeds from the house among my father, my brothers and me. I was the will's executor, but my father was ignoring my mother’s wishes; and I had to hire an attorney to be certain the inheritance was allocated as my mother had wanted.

Battling the gypsy moths helped me release the anger I felt towards my father’s bullying, and the trees served as an outlet for my difficult emotional storm.

Though the tree behind my condo was hauled away this week, there is still a fragrant orange tree below that perfumes the breeze and shares its sweet fruit with all the neighbors.

I have a special connection and history with trees. I have cared for them, and they have cared for me providing me pleasure and a release from pain. I am a different kind of tree hugger.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Tree photo by Joe Zlomek
Raccoon photo by Troy Schulz
Orange tree photo by Jose Luis Navarro

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Healing Power of Memoir

I stood before the strangers in the audience feeling shaky but prepared to take the risk to read aloud a very private, emotional story from my life. 

Though my voice was quivering a bit, I read, gulped, and continued reading the first few paragraphs. Before I knew it, I was reliving the memory, back at my mother’s gravesite with my father standing in the rain. I listened to his regrets.

Tears and rain spattered my face. I stood there unable to speak, caught in the middle between my parents, in life and in death. And now, here I was living it again, oblivious to the darkened room and shadowy forms watching and listening to my story.

And just like then, I couldn’t speak. I could only cry as I recalled my father saying he was sorry to my dead mother and me. I could not get the words out. I was stuck in two times, the past and the present, caught in the grip of the memory.

I felt naked in front of strangers as the memory replayed itself. I could not hide from it. I had to let it run its course and relive it in front of 60 people who came to a public reading at a writers’ workshop in Woodstock, NY.

I stood there suspended in time, tears streaming down my face, trying to compose myself to finish the reading. The more I tried to stop crying, the harder it was to speak. I gave up, sobbed, swallowed hard and struggled to return to the present.

The room had gone strangely quiet. No one uttered a sound. We all waited for the scene to change.

When the intensity of the past shifted, I finished my story in a halting, barely audible voice, embarrassed and uncomfortable with my disclosure.

I tried to relieve the tension in the room by commenting lightly about what comes from writers’ workshops. There was a pause and then some gentle laughter. I returned to my seat and cried quietly to myself as the next presenter began her reading.

Afterwards, a number of people approached and told me how touched they were by my story; some reminisced about their own fathers. I could only nod and politely respond through my puffy face and swollen eyelids.

Later that night I felt an enormous sense of relief, as if the shared memory had set me free. It was no longer a family secret aching inside of me. The”telling” gave me comfort and moved the listeners.

That night I also discovered the power of memoir to connect me to a universal family and to my still healing self.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Photo by Sanja Gjenero

Thursday, January 7, 2010

First 100 Days of Blogging

For almost two years I told everyone (and myself) I would start a blog. I saved articles and bought books about blogging, but it seemed too big a commitment to take on. 

So last fall, I took the plunge and signed up for an intensive online class that pushed me into learning new technology, dusting off old stories and creating new ones to have at least 10 posts ready to go within two weeks. The weekly requirements were time consuming and tiring with a steep learning curve, but I prevailed.

I had much to learn to reach a comfort level with basic blogging tools. I’m still learning. Though the technology was a hurdle to overcome for a non-techie, I had no idea where the blog journey would lead me.

Initially, another new blogger from the class and I encouraged and supported each other. I tested the waters by adding my blog to directories and introducing it to online writers’ groups. I emailed friends and family asking them to take a look and come by regularly if they liked what they saw.

It’s been an amazing ride so far. I have shared stories from my youth with my children they never knew. People I will never meet have commented on my blog from Greece, Australia, NYC, Indiana, Canada and elsewhere. At local functions others tell me they have shared my blog with their friends and relatives, and of course I am thrilled.

I took more steps to reach more readers by sharing my blog on Facebook and LinkedIn with a network of friends, relatives and colleagues whom I’ve rediscovered from college and former jobs as well as new friends and friends of friends.

Though I teach Internet marketing at a college nearby, I am now experiencing the new personal connections that can come from anywhere. As a professional marketer, for years I helped companies find and keep new customers via the Net, but my personal circle consisted of known friends whom I shared emails with to stay in touch and pass along jokes.

Blogging expanded my world to so many more people. I’m surprised and delighted that the writing speaks to such a diverse group of men and women, ages and beliefs. I always wanted to write a memoir to share my life experiences and the wisdom I’ve earned through them, but the book seemed so daunting.

After my first 100 days of blogging, a new world has opened up to me. My blog is ranked on three top lists on Facebook’s Networked Blogs.

One of my posts, Following My Bliss was recently included in the Independent Writers of SoCAL’s newsletter.

But the most important discovery of blogging is the joy I feel every time I write. The creative process from ideas that emerge, that can show up in the car, the bathtub, anywhere, to finding images to enhance and complete the story, and finally to publish it is an ongoing act of discovery every time. I can tell and publish my stories in real time and have them ready for browsers and followers anytime, anywhere.

For me, blogging is the ultimate way to connect and share with those I know and many I will never meet. It is an act of love every time.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Photo by Zanetta Hardy

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year Resolutions...There’s a Better Way

I used to take them seriously…made lists, worded them carefully and discovered that in spite of that, New Year resolutions were pretty much the same from year to year:

Find true love

Make more money

Lose weight and exercise

So this year, I’ve decided to be more flexible with my resolutions because the same issues are still with me, only this time under a blue moon. I'm going broader and lighter with my insistent resolutions after 60 some years of resolution making.

So how about...
Be ____ and fill in the blank.

Be happy

Be me

Be spontaneous and so on.

Create a “Be” list that can be organic as you live 2010. You can add and subtract from your Be’s in real time. It’s far less stringent and infinitely more adaptable to life as it happens. As the cliché goes, “Be all you can be.”

Well, I’m willing to try something new and see if my “Be list” resolution worked when I start 2011. If not, I'll add it to my ongoing resolutions:)

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Photo by Bartek Ambrozik