Monday, May 4, 2009

Staying in Touch--with Co-Workers

When I am back in the US I work at a museum and library of chemistry and early science that has books in its collections dating back to the invention of printing in the 1400s. In some ways, we are the most low-tech place you could imagine. The staff reads books. People visit to read books. We all talk about books. But if Chemical Heritage Foundation is low-tech at heart, it has a high-tech side. We have an extensive Web site, a Facebook page and many other connections to the high-tech world. And since I miss the people I work with the best of these high-tech connections is "Distillations" the CHF podcast (Free subscription on iTunes.)

when I go to the gym or in have a few minutes I can listen to the weekly podcast on various subjects in chemistry and the world around us. I liked the podcast when I was in America, but now listening Jen, Jim, Sarah, Bob, Jody (not THAT Jody), Audra, or the always mysterious Anke talk about chemistry in the kitchen, or medieval love potions, or how to be green and clean, I hear voices that I miss. Of course, they are all being professional and informative as they speak, but I have heard everyone who is on the podcast laugh and make jokes in person, so I can usually remember some funny thing Anke said about Medieval cures that were worse than the disease, or Jim showing me a Ship of Fools, or Sarah making jokes about almost anything.

CHF is a great place to work. If you don't believe me, listen to the podcast. Almost everyone who is "on the air" is on the staff.

So if high-tech might have kept me from becoming a writer, it certainly is nice to have it for things like listening to people I know and like on line.

Then and Now: Staying in Touch

When I was stationed in (West) Germany, my peak income as a sergeant was $5,000 per year in 1979, the third year of my deployment. At that time the only options for staying in touch with America were phone calls and snail mail. I phoned my family once in a while, but mail was the only real option. Compared to now, calling home cost a fortune: a ten-minute phone call cost at least $5 when most of us made less than $100 per week.

Now I call landlines on Skype from here in the Middle East and half the time I am charged nothing. Phone cards have rates around 20 cents per minute for a call that is as reliable as calling in the states. Email only costs the access fee for internet, same with Facebook and every other electronic means of calling/writing home.

I am very happy to be able to talk to every member of my family every week. I also call friends and co-workers just on a whim because it is cheap and easy. This blog allows me to stay in touch with a lot of people without clogging their email InBoxes.

But no Blessing in this life is unmixed. I learned how to write on my deployment to Germany. I joined the Army a High School graduate who had no aspirations of going to college. Seeing the beauty of the German countryside, talking with Germans, training with British troops, flying to France in a helicopter for a War Memorial ceremony all were experiences beyond pictures. I wanted to tell my family and friends about them.

I don't know how it started, but a few months into the deployment, I started writing several drafts of the same experience as letters. First I wrote to my Mom. She mostly cared that I wrote, not what I wrote, so she got the first draft. Then I would write to Frank Capuano, my best friend from high school, or someone else who I wanted to tell about simply being in a foreign country. Sometimes I would write another more letter, same story. But the last letter in the series would be either to my sister, Jean, or my uncle Jack. They were the best writers I knew personally so I by the time I wrote their copy, I was 4 or 5 drafts from my first thoughts.

A year later when I got a job on the base newspaper it was because of all that practice writing. Even though I write every day now, the process is not the same. I write, I hit the PUBLISH POST button and never revise.

Of course, if I were writing five drafts of each post, I would be posting a lot less. But I have no doubt that I learned the craft of being a writer by those laborious rewrites. I will be writing other posts on this subject--in one draft.