All employees of the Department of Public Health’s downtown Portland office were to report to The Center for Antique Boating at 9:00 am on the Wednesday a week before Thanksgiving. It was sunny but the lack of cloud cover to trap the heat meant it was cold. The few thick skeins of clouds’ reflection in the lake made the lake, uneven in the winded breeze, look upholstered. The facility floats on the lake and in the main room, where the company retreat was to be held, you couldn’t feel the rocking. The facilitator, who smelled mildly of Magic Marker and orange juice, pointed out to those that were early that you’d only know how choppy the lake was by looking at the various models of canoes attached to the ceiling.
Management had planned this working retreat because the committee charged with composing, disseminating and tabulating the results of the public-satisfaction survey had been taken quite off guard by the results. They expected higher overall marks, for one, but the Department of Public Health’s customer service division’s scores was not at the nerve center of concern. It was comments like these:
(From a member of the public who gave an overall score of 8/10): The personnel that staff the DPH’s help desk are always patient, eager and almost robotically jovial. I get what I need straight away and with no discernible bureaucratic grime. This makes me feel both proportionately more irritated with the rest of my life and like a really bad person, since I’m grumpy, petty and jealous far more often than any one of the DPH’s representatives, or even all of them combined.
(From a member of the public who gave a high overall score – 3-ish/10 – but only a 4/5 in the category of General Experience): No one was mean to me or anything, but, since you’ve streamlined any potential paperwork and the new protocol to save the trees – which I understand you understand to be an integral part to human-lung health – has forced all publications to go entirely world-wide-webular, there wasn’t anything for me to do during my 15-minute wait. Nothing, that is, outside of what I could normally do with my phone anywhere else. The drab routineness was disappointing.
(From a member of the public who gave an overall score of 3.5/10 but who ranked the DPH last in a list of five other government-funded facilities – i.e., the post office, waste management): I haven’t experienced the actual, physical premises of the Dpt. of Public Health so I couldn’t say if they have been stellar in that regard. All I know is I still get sick.
The facilitator had taken an undergraduate degree in psychology from Rutgers and, after starting and selling three successful companies, completed a Master’s of Divinity at Yale. He spent a decade in St. Louis fighting urban poverty, the next five years in Tuscaloosa helping communities rally around at-risk youth and then realized that, whenever he left, most of his work somehow undid itself. So he started learning how to delegate. That’s what he was hired by the DPH management to do this morning. Then he opened the floor for introductions; everyone would talk but could do so whenever they felt ready: name, a few words about place of origin and one thing he or she appreciated about working at the DPH.
Amal, the executive director originally from Denver, started by appreciating the work/life balance he, even in the high-up position he’s in, is able to strike. Kareena, the accountant from Portland, says, “I’ve been here for the last six years and at none of my other jobs did I ever feel like I was making a positive difference.” She covers her pointer finger with the end of her sleeve and dabs discreetly at the corner of her eyes. “I mean, as a bookkeeper in a corporate law office, I feel like I was just keeping a record of how much we were spending ruining people’s lives.”
Kari, a research analyst from Portland, had started nodding furiously at Kareena’s appreciation for being able to make a difference. “As a math major that wanted to go into research, I had to take whatever job I could get in order to jump the job-experience cycle. I worked at several places, too many places, that basically required shady or deceptive reporting or stuff like doctoring results. And these were places like hospitals or studies funded by The APA or even – and this broke my heart – some environmental nonprofits.”
Dave, a brave newbie in administration, waited somehow just the right amount of time after Kari’s dry-eyed but heartfelt speech before saying, “David, from Chicago, that promotions actually happen and happen in a timely manner.” A few unsure chuckles poked the stale air. “You know, so I’ve heard.” The laughter filled out and Sherev (also in research analysis), waited for it to die down before hamming up her accent to say, “I’m sure it’s obvious where I’m from but for the newbies, I hail from Lumpkin, Georgia, and you know I just so appreciate being able to work with folks more intelligent than myself.” The laughter revved up and saw-toothed throughout the rest of the twenty-five employees.
The facilitator turned to the large sheets of butcher paper he had taped over the room’s rear exit doors and walls, which were all entirely windows and the space’s secondary source of light. He wrote Values in an architect’s handwriting. He asked folks to write down two things they thought this company valued – write down to combat the temptation to change responses once coworkers start talking. As employees called out answers, he wrote down key words, nodded, sometimes asked for clarification.
“And what do you mean by ‘I feel respected for who I am?’ Is this an indication that there aren’t really social norms at the office or is this about being able to set your own hours or something else?”
“I feel like the right things matter.” Maya was one of the newest on staff. “What I wear, what time I’m able to get up and functional in the morning, what gender my partner is, those things don’t matter in the sense of being judged. They do matter in the sense that we all really enjoy each other for who we are.”
“So the visibility of the individual is in service of relationship building as opposed to division,” the facilitator said. Maya affirmed and several grunted or nodded in agreement.
“I appreciate how we make decisions around here,” Amal said. “I decided when I was promoted to this position six years ago that every decision – after the one I was making just then, of course – would be by consensus.”
“Truly?” He looked around while every head, except one, nodded. The facilitator didn’t notice that single stationary head, perhaps because it was close enough to the front, where he stood, to be just under his line of sight. “How Quaker of you,” he said. “That is really remarkable for an organization to do,” he said as he wrote Consensus and underlined it twice.
The values discussion could have continued but, after going half an hour into the scheduled lunch hour, everyone agreed to break at 1:00. For lunch, employees were encouraged to switch tables and try not to do work during the break. The facilitator expressed genuine worry about burnout and so would be coming around to make sure people were actually relaxing and enjoying one another’s company.
“The level of laughter in this room whenever I’ve instructed you to discuss in the small groups at your table,” he said, “is remarkable. You all have the capacity to truly enjoy one another’s company.” Fennel and Seed, Portland’s premier caterer, had provided boxes made to order and the employees naturally formed a conveyor belt to efficiently disperse them according to the near-calligraphed names scrawled on the top in Sharpie.
As the facilitator walked around, he noticed that the huge sheets of white paper covering the tables had been blank until employees started trying to replicate the beautiful handwriting on their lunch boxes. Laughter levels held at normal to high throughout the meal, which may be why many continued to pick at their fruit cups or éclairs as the next session began.
By afternoon, the sky was so full of clouds it looked like a sail at 30 knots. The canoes suspended from the ceiling swayed in unison overhead. The facilitator had filtered his notes during the values discussion into the five main core values he saw emerging and he’d listed out on a new piece of paper. Consensus. Respectful appraisal of the individual. True enjoyment of each other. Personal and corporate punctuality. Impeccable follow-through. “Good work being done here is my feeling about you all’s feeling about yourselves,” the facilitator said. “Good work being done by good people.”
The staff either smiled or nodded.
“You look like you want to say something,” the facilitator said to an employee at the closest table.
“I just wonder,” Sandy said, “I just wonder how you get all this from us.”
The facilitator smiled. “Your company is ahead of schedule yet again.” He dropped his pen just under his feet but didn’t bend to pick it up. “One of the exercises I usually run with groups is the distillation of values. Most end up with at least one distinct value per person –”
“Which,” Dave whispered to Anita next to him, “you might expect in an individualism-obsessed culture.”
“Well,” the facilitator said, looking at Dave, “we shouldn’t confuse individualism with individuality.” Dave’s face suddenly looked laminated. He pretended to have to blow his nose on his napkin. “But his is a good point. One we should circle back to after I properly address what your colleague here said.”
“About the values formation, I find that wrangling the list of expressed values that most companies I work with into a set of four or five core values usually takes an extra exercise. Perhaps it’s you all’s comfort with consensus, but we don’t need to do that – unless any of you disagrees with the five I’ve listed here.” The facilitator looked around the room to see heads turning and looking around the room.
“Very good,” the facilitator said. “Next, your colleague Sandy here has asked a question that doesn’t usually come up until the second day. On the surface,” the facilitator nodded towards those who were smiling, “it appears to be about me. People wonder if this ‘reading people’ thing they’ve noted I do is part of my ‘mastering divinity’ training.”
“But actually,” he continued after settling back into himself, “the question is really about you all.” He picked up the pen and held it out as he drew a circle in the air pointing to everyone in the room one at a time. “I’m only as good as my mirror,” the facilitator said. “You all are the cleanest mirror I’ve come across. So that’s how I can, as Sandy said, ‘Get all this from you.’” The facilitator raised an eyebrow in Sandy’s direction and waited.
“But how,” Sandy said, “I mean, what makes a clean mirror?”
The facilitator nodded and turned to the center of the room, squinting as if looking far out to sea. “Does anyone have any ideas?” He waited.
“My thought,” the facilitator said as if he were easing into a swimming pool, “is that the way to clean a mirror well enough for someone to see you accurately is the willingness to be vulnerable.” He paused again, this time drawing a circle around the room with his eyes. The canoes rested for a few moments, too. “There is a lot of emotion in this room,” the facilitator said finally. He held his hands up and out toward the staff. “A lot of joy, a lot of gratitude, a lot of daring.” He capped and uncapped his marker.
“Which is how I know you all can handle difficult conversations without remaining falsely buoyant or degenerating into infighting and criticism.” He put his hand on the sheet of paper next to the list of core values as if he were laying his hand on a baby’s cheek.
“Five growth areas,” he said, drumming his fingers on the bulleted list. Employees started looking around the room after reading the list, stunned, looking to see if others were feeling the same way. “In my interviews with about half of you in preparation for this retreat, and in the particles of conversations I’ve gathered in this first half day with you all, these are what I’m hearing from you are five key regions of work life you’d like to have better settlements.” The facilitator dropped his marker tip down in the pocket of his white button-up without the cap on. A little red spot quickly appeared near the facilitator’s heart.
“If you all agree with these five things that I’ve proposed are areas of attention for you, then let’s break into groups according to which one you have the most stake or interest in. The Communications group will be up here to my left, the Teamwork crew up front to the right, Succession and Leadership will take the middle table, Business-Model folks will gather to the back and right and the Sustainability and Work Ethic people are going to have to set up another table and chairs.” He pointed to the stack of empty chairs then drew a perfect circle in the air with his finger around the empty space near the coffee and tea table.
Five people gathered at each table and the facilitator gave the assignment: “Identify three issues in your chosen growth area and nominate one person to write each down in a single sentence. After about twenty minutes – I’ll tell you when – you’ll pick one of your three sentences and see if you can’t come up with two possible ways to address your chosen issue. You’ll get about thirty minutes for this before we come back together as a whole group and share our work.”
The facilitator began to walk around the tables. At the Communication table, he heard, “We need some sort of newsletter or something. People have been moving offices and several folks had no idea that was evening happening” and “I’m not so sure that this ‘impeccable follow-through’ value we’ve got on our core values list applies specifically to communication.” At the Succession/Leadership table, the facilitator saw, during the talk of the age of the managers and leaders of the team, eyebrows so deeply furrowed and lips so heavily pursed that he felt his own shoulders reach for his ears and cramp; at the Sustainability/Work Ethic table, a tightrope-tense conversation about the current vague way of tracking hours and at the Business Model table, the facilitator saw two hand-scrawled spreadsheets and discussions about “time allocation” and “the possibility of collecting data on which of our projects eat up the most time and budget pie.” The Teamwork table, which the facilitator didn’t get around to until last, was still delegating responsibilities for the task at hand.
“From the sounds of it, the teams are all over the place,” the facilitator said from the center of the room. “Let’s throw out the regimented time schedule and we’ll just use the rest of the time to work through the tasks at whatever pace your team needs.” The facilitator made the rounds again, this time sitting at each table for several minutes. When it came time to for the teams to share the problems they identified and their proposed solutions, the facilitator, for once, was caught off guard by the incongruence of his expectations with the prompted responses.
Succession/Leadership volunteered to share first. “There is a relatively uniform age of people in most positions of leadership. This means that retirements or promotions are less likely to be staggered, which could lead to an all-at-once type of transition. Our proposed solution is to coordinate an every-other-month training opportunity regarding topics relevant to all or as many jobs or tasks as possible. We’ll use our expertise in the office as well as bring in outside speakers. This way, we all have the opportunity to be trained equally and will have all skill levels covered.” The facilitator seemed stunned, until he realized, “This is another face of consensus.”
The business model table’s spokesperson said, “We want to create some sort of data tabulation system so that we can allocate more resources toward charity work.” Before the facilitator could reflect, the sustainability/work ethic table jumped in. “Ours was a similar concept – we thought making reporting our hours more specific and more uniform might be a start to getting a handle on how much people are working and what they’re working on, so we can better balance out workloads.” The facilitator nods along with the rest of the staff.
“But,” Sandy said, “what about the danger of this being used the wrong way?” The facilitator turned around. “Can you say more about that? What your concern
“If we start to get granular about who’s doing what, I’m afraid it could start to encourage comparison and competition.” The facilitator lifted his chin as if to begin a single, large nod and made eye contact with Sandy.
“And it would seem, then, that this applies to all data collection and analysis, then,” he said finally, after drawing a long breath through his teeth. Employees kept their eyes on the facilitator and some seemed to be holding their breath without knowing it. Amal’s right shoulder crept slowly closer to his ear, a trademark move any employee who’s made it three months would recognize to indicate that he knows he needs to say something but isn’t sure how or when.
A few employees at the teamwork table leaned toward each other and whispered. Then one of them said, “Our proposal might address this, actually.” The facilitator looked to Sandy as if for permission and then mouthed “okay” at the teamwork spokesperson.
“It seems that competition thrives when people stop believing they are valued and needed in a community, or, for our purposes, team. We have departments already, which serve as a sort of built-in framework for teams. We thought it might also be interesting to see about getting all the admin assistants from each department together once a month, and all the managers, all the reporting specialists, you know, and create a more well-rounded feeling of team,” Jillian said.
“And we don’t want to hold anyone’s hand here,” Sherev cut in, “we were going to say that, at those by-job-title meetings, we could offer respective trainings.” She sounded like she was merely taking a breath rather than being finished but she didn’t say anything more.
“But,” Sandy said, “isn’t that specifically inversely proportional to flexibility?”
The facilitator had made his way back to the front of the room and tapped his finger on the words Flexibility and Respect for the Individual on the Values sheet. When he leaned against it, the word Consensus looked like it was holding up his head. For a full minute, it seemed like nothing, not even the canoes overhead, moved.
“Ah, competing values,” he said, drumming his fingers on the paper. It appears we’re at a loss for words, collectively.” The facilitator had a kind smile. “Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that the communication table is the last team to speak.”
The people at the communication table whispered and pointed at each other before appointing Janeese. “We didn’t get to the solving stages of any of our issues, beyond some rather middle-schooler-type suggestions but we identified under-communication and lack of follow through when things are communicated as our two main sore spots.”
The facilitator swept the room with his eyes before asking if “Jane” could elaborate.
“No, but Sandy can.” Janeese made a motion of handing off a baton.
“I can give you a for-instance that we discussed. Last week, we started moving offices around – we have a whole floor to ourselves and people were shuffling individual offices within in it along the back wall, which is the one with all the windows. Several people came wandering through there not being able to find the person they were looking for because they didn’t know offices had moved. Another for-instance, it seems that people have to be asked multiple times to do something even after they commit to it the first time. This involves a lot of having to chase people down and essentially be their follow-up conscience.”
The facilitator shoved himself off the window where he was leaning and tore off another piece of butcher paper. He taped it over the Values and divided the paper into thirds with a black Sharpie he must have pulled from a pocket in his pants while turned from the group. At the top of each third, he started to write in his red Magic Marker before realizing it had totally drained into his shirt. A staff member pointed out that this might be a good time for a break. The facilitator dismissed them.
Nothing was securely in its place out on the deck around the meeting room. No matter how hard some woodcarver clearly worked on getting the benches’ legs to look braided and the solid-panel backs both sturdy and scenic, any of them could pitch into the lake at any moment. A sundial whirred idly in the wind. At the end of the dock, a box supported a sign explaining what all someone who looked through the binoculars could see if they followed the instructions on the glassed placard. The for-rent sailboats chipping the edges of the deck and the private, moored boats fidgeted nervously on an equally uncertain lake. Employees staggered around and stumbled a bit through the door as they had to quickly acclimate to the now-eerie stillness of the retreat room as break was over.
The facilitator had changed shirts and his new one fit him as well as a hastily borrowed garment might. When all were settled, the facilitator flattened his palm on the new list, which he had titled Roles.
“I have some ideas based on observations about what might go in these boxes as a way of helping to frame the conversation, which looks to me to be forming around how to balance time management, including things like burnout and philanthropic activities, with this reverence for the individual, including things like lifestyle choices and privacy, in a way that upholds this sense of teamwork. Consensus is nothing without teamwork, and teamwork is nothing without trust.” The facilitator instructed the staff to spend a few minutes reflecting on how one comes to trust another person and then a group of people, if those answers are different. After that – he’ll signal when those few minutes have passed – he wanted us to write down, from observations more so than desires, what three key roles in this discussion might be.
He walked around the room, not peering over anyone’s shoulder as they privately reflect on trust, just being a presence.
“What would you suggest goes here?” Most employees jumped or started out of their inner-world explorations. The facilitator held his hands supine and out to them. There wasn’t too much deliberation before Encourager, organizer and Visionary make the final cut onto the paper. The facilitator asked for explanation of these three choices – “How would you articulate these roles to yourself?” – to solidify understand before attempting, tomorrow, to deal with the competing-values question that has presented itself. The time ended with brave Dave offering this reflection:
“So the visionary is the one that sees a desert meadow and holds the hope for verdantly diverse and flourishing life there. She’ll be the one with shovels ready to pass out to everyone to start digging a path for the needed river. The encourager will be the one to get everyone excited about the hard, seemingly endless work of moving dirt and the organizer will direct everyone where to put their dirt, as well as where to cut into it, to maximize both flow and irrigation reach.” As employees stood to gather their things and head to the appointed restaurant for dinner, several people clapped.
The next morning is cold due to lack of cloud cover to trap the heat. The timing belt on Communication’s car snaps in half so they will be late. Teamwork wants to wait for them.
“How can we be successful at creating teams if we aren’t clear we have an understanding of what a team is or what it takes to feel like part of one?” Teamwork explains to the facilitator, who has written various people’s names under each of the agreed-upon Roles titles. There is some conversation about whether teamwork is an encouraging force or an organizing force and this sparks Sustainability/Leadership to refine the trainings proposal into a more vision-casting facilitation. Business Model and Sustainability/Work Ethic are both solidly locked down in their sense of need for data collection and analysis, though, so most of the morning turns into heady debates about what words like “encouragement” and “ethic” and “analysis” mean.
“Ethic is a word related to ethos, or spirit,” Kareena says. “Point being, the real question is: what kind of person would we want our workplace to be if our workplace was a single individual?”
“But that would eliminate the need for teamwork,” Teamwork says.
“Is the body made up of eyes?” Communication says.
“Or mouths, for that matter?” Succession/Leadership says.
The facilitator tries to wrangle the conversation back to vision and mission. He points to the walls of the space we’re in, which tell the story of the organization hosting this retreat. “How extraordinary that two people had a vision in 1965 about preserving the craftsmanship and quality artistry embodied in vintage boats and, fifty years later, the vision has not only stayed alive, but grown to incorporate things like after-school programs for at-risk youth, job-skills workshops for anyone in the community and volunteer opportunities for people who love to sail and whittle wood.” The room is silent. The facilitator calls a break and encourages people to read the storyboard that has been surrounding them this whole time.
Sandy goes outside. It is too cold to breathe deeply. Sandy unties shoes and pulls them, along with gray, green and blue striped socks off, shoving the socks inside the boots and placing them carefully under a bench. Sandy’s knees bend, calf and feet muscles contract, heels push into the wet deck before first they and then toes spring into the air as legs, hips, torso, shoulders, arms follow a perfect arc into the water, hands slitting the surface of the water, then the fullness of the water,  then the dusty poof of sediment, then the inviolable bottom of sand.
 Unless your motion sickness is triggered by stepping on a pebble on the sidewalk.
 I’m not sure if my coworkers noticed this; I was at the closest table to the front of the room.
 Mostly the callow less-than-six-monthers.
 Their transoms wagged like happy dogs’ tails while their bows remained curiously inert. This both confirmed and worsened the row in my viscera.
 At least, this is what we were told in the evite sent to our work email addresses the Friday before.
 This is on a scale of 1 to 10 (one being high), and not out of ten questions or anything like that.
 Also opposite of expected: five is low.
 Us more senior employees pronounced this “Dee Poh,” rather than each individual letter of the acronym.
 Most of my colleagues seemed to know what this acronymized. No one asked for clarification anyway.
 I (Sandy/customer service/Portland/that hard work is recognized in the company) went last.
 Who incidentally never mentioned his name. I verified that I didn’t somehow miss it by checking around at lunch. This – either my being worried about his name or worried about having missed his stating his name – seemed to bewilder my coworkers.
 With chemically orange electrical tape. Very distracting.
 The first being a network of pull-string bulbs where the pull string looked like an absurdly unnecessary anchor line of various canoes.
 The facilitator revealed then that he was one of those rare people who could raise one eyebrow while lowering the other.
 in blue.
 who at that moment made mention of the interviews he had taken with about half the staff before the start of the retreat as if we all knew about them.
 They really were quite good: they managed to make a broccoli, leeks and cheddar quiche that was tasty cold.
 red and black pinstriped
 Two employees – Sherev and Johanna – even tore off the top flap of their box that had their names on it and tucked them in the front cover of their respective college-rule notebooks.
 I ate the minimum amount of food to allay coworker or facilitator concern. I spent the rest of the afternoon, until I could ditch the dock, regretting every bite, which I could feel punching around.
 Which, now that the sun had clobbered the clouds again, weirdly seemed to be made of light
 For the most part.
 which smelled like cough syrup
 The facilitator’s heel came dangerously close to coming down on the marker as he began to pace.
 Dave’s shoulders dropped slightly but he held the napkin steady at nose level.
 Proud beams, probably genuine, appeared on Amal’s, Sherev’s and Malika’s faces. Malika is my supervisor.
 The edge of the facilitator’s new loafer clipped the edge of the pen and sent it helicoptering out to the center of the room, startling almost everyone.
 There seemed to be a consensus about silence.
 On that last one, he raised his eyebrow at me again, in a way that temporarily eclipsed my feeling that consensus is a really powerful way to silence dissent.
 It sounded like a horse out for a pleasant stroll.
 Both now so severely backlit it looked as though they were coming straight out of heaven.
 I might have described this as a “how did he know?!” look, but, alas, we’d already gone over that.
 I was not one of them.
 They screamed when you opened them as if undergoing surgery without anesthesia.
 He tried to do it as an invitation.
 Each of his footsteps made two distinct sounds, one for the heel, one for the ball of his foot.
 Which still would betray no rocking feeling, even though the canoes were swinging like they were at a Glenn Miller concert.
 This was strangely comforting, which made me uncomfortable. He didn’t say anything but his presence was priestly, not in the only-a-bit-lower-than-God-but-way-above-all-of-you way, but close.
 He actually staggered a bit while Maggie was explaining the training scheme.
 Questions and comments from the rest of us were to be held until after everyone shared.
 It seems still having not noticed the red stain on his chest even as it now looked like a knife wound.
 When I get nervous, all the miscellaneous shuffling, building creaking, breeze outside, background noise, basically, get subsonic, like they do when you’ve got a fever.
 Watching him do this gave me something like sympathy pains in my two central incisors.
 And here I really did almost add “and sorry to be a pest” but thought that would increase the irk factor.
 who hadn’t sat down once the entire retreat thus far
 just as he looked down to discover the murder-mystery tie-dye on his pressed and starched white pocket.
 It was much more obvious on the decks outside how sensitive the building was to the lake’s movement, though it actually seemed like the sky was the one heaving.
 One depicted a sunrise, another a Grizzly successfully fishing, another a moose howling up at an emaciated moon.
 It’s unclear what a handful of masterpieces of woodworking are doing dotting the deck here. Smoke breaks for employees of the Center for Antique Boats? Captains catching up? The edges of the sunrays and mountain tops on the one and the bear’s claws and pine branches on the other are soft so they’ve been well-used somehow. Or maybe erosion?
 clearly just for show
 which did not seem strong enough to be bridging the backs of some of the saplings planted that summer along the shore.
 beet-maroon, about three feet high
 The box evidently opened but there were no binoculars to be found in or near it.
 like it was after last year’s Christmas party
 It was quite similar to stepping from the moving walkway at an airport to good old solid 1970s carpeting.
 During break, I had heard a few people mumbling about whether or not that red stain had always been there or if it somehow appeared during the day’s work. “Was it sweat?” one of them wondered? “Actual blood?” I spent the break alone but regretted not informing them of the facilitator’s absent-minded mishap.
 Where he might have found a shirt to borrow, though, I can’t guess, as everyone else’s clothing was consistent.
 except the canoes lunging at each other territorially
 As in, in writing – journaling.
 which could now be classified as difficult, presumably.
 Does anyone else notice the slight tap-dance-shoe beat? The sound is scratchy and gruff like a sore throat, like sand has been dragged in from a far-off beach and has been distributed over the floor.
 The measured tapping and the groan of several of the canoes’ chains make the reflection/list-making time feel military-issued.
 Did anyone else write down prophet – and, next to it, in parentheses, “consensus challenger”? Speaking up now, though, would probably push us well into the dinner hour.
 which sounds like waves backhanding the bobbing deck.
 The sun’s rays look frosted over.
 they’ve also backed way up on their original idea of fostering interlocking networks of teams.
 For about five minutes, I wonder if I’m late and missed a discussion about whose names go where, especially because I don’t see mine anywhere.
 Don’t get me wrong, these are fine things to hammer out between people who need to work together providing health-related services to the public. There is a reason I picked the communication table at the beginning. But this morning, I heard that, in the midst of the nation-wide roiling vaccine debate, four area elementary schools are experiencing a mysterious outbreak that has sent an overcapacity amount of kids to local hospitals and a few, even, had to be life-flighted to the state’s trauma unit. Also, polio is making a comeback in indigent parts of the world, malaria is on the rise in places we thought we had it beat and mental-health-related issues are skyrocketing. That last one, though, isn’t on the news.
 Several employees seem surprised that an accountant would know something like that.
 The only movement is the canoes, jerking on their chains.
 the boots that were last year’s favorite Christmas present
 The backboard shows a well-worn guy with a shepherd’s staff standing alone at the base of an enormous mountain.
 which feels like a cat’s tongue
 The air ribboning past in frigid turbulences like it was even at that very moment freezing in place
 which was the real knife in this situation
 the cold of which made it rough as straw and triggered an adrenaline surge that pinched me in a million places like I was wearing a bag of tiny punches
 mangling an otherwise sky-plagiarizingly clear body of water
 You know that saying that sand slips through your fingers if you squeeze too hard? It’s supposed to be about holding convictions or hopes or beliefs loosely or something. I squeezed the hell and water out of that sand. Then I grabbed another handful, then another, then another, picking and squeezing my way along the bottom until I noticed handprints. Impossible, and yet, there they were, in a line I might just have enough breath to follow.