Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nanowrimo 2014

So National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) is almost upon use. The question is, will I do this year or not?

I ask because I attempted it last year but fell off the band wagon pretty quickly - other things came up and I simply was not really committed to what I was writing.  This year is a little different already.

So the question is, am I going to do it?

The one year I successfully completed it - 2012 - I went in with a definitive idea in mind that sustained me through the struggle of generating 1567 words a day (it is not as hard as you think, but it is an endurance race).  This year, I find myself 2 days before I would start writing without the foggiest idea in the world what I would write about.

But I am wondering if this, too, is not a different aspect for writing.

The reality is that I have ideas rattling around in my head - lots of them, actually.  Most of them I simply self censor because they're not "good enough" or actually ready for prime time.

But what if I simply took one out and started watching where it went.

It is not that I will write The Great American Novel - I get that.  But it is interesting to wonder what I could write if I just let the story start telling itself.  Because the remarkable thing I have found about writing is that if I will simply start writing, the characters will begin to fill the story in themselves, sometimes so much so that I scarcely recognize the work as something I typed.

So maybe this year the question is not so much "Will I do Nanowrimo?" as much as it is "Where will Nanwrimo lead?"

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Practice and Real

Last night I pulled out my shinken  to practice.

I have been off and on with Iaijutsu class over the last month due to family related activities.  I have also, let us be honest, been in a bit of a slump.  It is a slump which I have dealt with in the past in many of my activities, the slump of having hit a plateau.

It is hard.  I like to learn new things and I grapple with the fact that part of doing is simply getting better at the things one has learned rather than always learning new things.  And this means practicing and re-practicing the things one has learned.

I do not like practice (never really have honestly) so this makes one level of frustration for me (and no-one is more surprised than I that I have stuck with this as long as I have).  The second level that makes it difficult for me is that I am constantly practicing alone.  That may be okay for many activities; it is harder for an activity where the intent (theoretically) is to engage with someone else.

So I have not been as diligent of late as I should have been but I have been trying, practicing with my bokken with cuts in the morning and kata in the evening.  But I was feeling low and tired and rushed last night, so I pulled out my shinken last night.

And fell in love all over again.

My shinken is a standard katana length (29 inches, 10 inch tsuka or hilt) and is very much lighter than my bokken - so much so, in fact, that it almost flipped out of my hand as I practiced.  The lightness of the sword gave me speed, speed I feel I am missing so much in my practice.  It moved and danced in my hand with a feeling of lightness, not the usual slowness I feel when I am practicing.  For a 30 minute period I felt like a swordsman, not just a guy out practicing.

When I went back in - feeling far more energized and rededicated to my art - I realized something I have forgotten:  practice is good, but we do not practice for the sake of practice.  We practice to perform, be it with our skills or our swords.  If we forget this, only living forever in a state of getting ready, we deny ourselves the great joy of occasionally looking up and realizing we are doing this for an actual purpose, not just for the sake of doing.

Feeling down or bored with something you used to love to do?  Do it - not for practice but for real, even if it is only displayed for yourself.  Remind yourself why you started in the first place.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Thinking on Responsibility

I am re-reading Churchill on Leadership by Steven F. Hayward.  I had originally just grabbed it off the shelf again because I felt like I needed a short book to read in the mornings; what I have found is a reminder to myself precisely at the time that I needed it.

One of Churchill's great beliefs was that being given responsibility without power was one of the most unsuccessful and least desirable things that could happen to him - or any individual:

"What you have no right to do is to ask me to bear responsibilities without the power of effective action."

"Few sensations are more painful than responsibility without power."

"My one fatal mistake was trying to achieve a great enterprise without having the plenary authority which could have to easily carried it to success."

"Someone has to take responsibility.  I will."

I compare this to my own work situation - certainly most of my work life but more specifically the time I have spent at my current job over the last 5.5 years.  What I realize - and I think is true of many if not most businesses - is that Churchill's complaint is a common one:  being given responsibility with authority or the power to execute.

Being given responsibility can be a wonderful thing.  It should be a sign of increasing skill and knowledge or a recognition of trust in one's abilities.  But when the responsibility is transferred without any authority to carry out the responsibility the responsibility becomes nothing more in reality than a burden, a weight given by others with the intent to affix blame when the thing is not accomplished.

It is being given the responsibility of the budget without any control of the spending.  It is being given responsibility for a project without any input into the project other than "Finish it".  It is being charged with the building of a relationship without any ability to speak directly with the person involved.

It is being asked to do that which you cannot control yet be responsible for the results.

What to do? I realized (as I wrote this) that there really is only one solution:  being clear up front.  Specifically asking "What is my authority to accomplish this?" - and if not getting the response that works (i.e. "Total") simply stating "I cannot take responsibility for this project.  I have no ability to requisition the resources, manage priorities, or drive the matter to conclusion meaningfully.  Otherwise you are simply setting me up for failure."

Harsh words?  Probably - but it will probably provoke a discussion, a discussion perhaps some people have not had in a while - if ever:  what is the nature of giving responsibility?

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Prayer for Rocky

As some of you know, my friend Rocky is dying from cancer.  He runs a small blog at where he has spent the last year and a half documenting his fight and his journey towards terminal velocity i.e. death.

It strikes me as odd:  I did not know Rocky before almost a year ago this month.  I have never known him with cancer.  I have never known the sound of his voice (He lost his voice a while ago) or seen him throw.  I have never known him as anything other than as he is now.

But what a knowing that has been.  He has been remarkably (remarkably!) open about his fight with cancer and his inevitable oncoming death.  In a way it is an online journal about dying:  not the dying we see in movies or the death that we so often come to know in our society - a sort of a quiet thing that happens to the side and we only know once it has happened.  Instead it has been open and available: the level of pain, the difficulty getting a trach tube in, the physical issues as Baxter (he has named the tumor) continues to grow.

He was admitted to Hospice last night. I am sure that he did not go willingly but necessarily.  He has beat the doctor's assessment by at least 6 months.  He has hoped to make it another 4 to February, to see the birth of his second grandchild.

I only have two requests for you today:

1)  Whatever is facing you, whatever you have to deal with, I can assure you that (for 99% of you) it is not nearly as bad as battling cancer and facing your own death.  Look at today with a sense of proprtionality.

2)  If you can (and if you are a praying person) spare a prayer for Rocky and his family.

Life is far more fleeting than we possibly imagine.  Embrace today.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cage Door

And then the moment comes when the cage door swings into place.

Suddenly one realizes that the course of the next years - perhaps really the last few years as well - has been set.  The creeping things that have edging up on one's life suddenly overtake one in one great overwhelming wave.  The die seems cast.

The illusion - and of now it appears to be an illusion - of choice and options seems stripped away.  Life - at least one's own life - seems revealed for what it really is:  a pre-programmed series of activities that leaves little to choice or chance.

Taxi to commute.  Commute to work. Work to commute.  Commute to dinner and the chores that need to be done.  And then comes the choice:  do I get the sleep that I need, or do something that I want to?  One cannot go forever without sleep.

The parts of life - one's own parts of life - get further and further wedged into the seconds and minutes that are available until, despondent, one is sorely tempted to start giving them up - after all, irregular practice does not lead to improvement and in fact just depresses one further.

Leaving what?  A rut.  A rut of work and responsibilities.

And then in a blinding flash, one understands why middle age crises happen.  Because others must come to the same realization, the same inward shudder as the door closes when there still seems to be so much of life left but it is seems beyond the reach.  The inward shudder, followed by the sense of depression, that comes when one feel's that life is nothing more than a shell of "musts" and "have to".

The sense that life is fleeting by while one sits in traffic, going to and from but never really doing.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Autumn Moon

The Morning Breeze blows
the Sliver of White Midnight
through the Green Oak Leaves.