Friday, December 30, 2011

The Last Workday of the Year

It is The Last Workday of the Year.

The Last Workday of the Year shares many of the same aspects as The Last Day of Work Before Christmas. Most financial generation is over except for the billing. The list of what has to get down this week has continued to become shortened as the week has progressed, as much from "I can really do this next year" as "I accomplished this".

In their heart of hearts, people are waiting for the official announcement: "It's the last day of the year. Let's go home." They won't say this, of course, but they'll find other ways to review it - periodic counts of how many people are in the building, followed up by another count to see how many have left.

Even I am lingering this morning over my coffee as I prepare to get ready for work. The traffic has been great this week - the most direct route has only been 25 minutes, which it never is - so getting there "on time" is not the issue. And I, too, am mentally making my list as I prepare to get things chopped off or moved to next year.

Because in the end, today changes nothing. The reviews are already in, and 99.9% of my actions are accounted for. It will be a paperwork shuffle if anything - reviewing things that basically won't get done anyway than next year, as how much can you do in one day?

Is there a sense of accomplishment to this year of work? Not really. I can point to a great deal that I accomplished this year, but hardly with a sense of accomplishment. Why? Because there's no enduring sense that a difference was made. Already the projects and common daily tasks for next year are stacked higher than I can reach them. The year past then blends into the year to come: one long experience of projects which, so often, seem to lead nowhere.

Ironically, the greatest anticipation of this day is simply when we do get to leave. It is one of 3 days of the year where the possibility of leaving early exists - a something to look forward to in the midst of the seamless transfer from last year to this.

So Happy Last Workday of the Year. May all your tasks be completed.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Making Progress, Meaningless Work

"Making progress on meaningless work doesn't boost engagement; people must feel that they are contributing to something they value. " - Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer

Progress on meaningless work - what a seemingly counter intuitive concept. By well-acknowledged definition, progress always means moving forward, moving towards an end goal, moving towards something better. But what if that progress is in something that has no meaning. Is it progress?

To use an example in my own life, if I complete the review of reams of documents which mean nothing outside the small circle of company I am in, have I really made any progress? Or have I just completed a task which more than likely will be filed away in a memory stick as part of an electronic archive in some years? Yes, I have checked items off my "to do" list, but have I really contributed anything in a meaningful way?

Yes, I agree with the hypothesis that such progress doesn't boost engagement of anyone; but I think the more fundamental question is "Does it represent true progress?"

As an employee, I want to be spending my time on things that matter, that make a difference or improve something. The same is true for me as a human as well, I suppose: I want to spend my time on things that are meaningful and involve progress (although often these are things of the heart: my cheese making, though I'm becoming more skilled at it, is hardly going to change the world). And even as a Christian, I want to make progress and be more obedient in the things that Christ desires, not in things which are trappings of the world or the mores and preferences of people.

Money cannot be a substitute for meaning; progress on the meaningless cannot be substitute for effort that makes an impact.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Whiff of Grapeshot

Where do I want to go next year?

2012 already stands to have the scent of change, a "whiff of grapeshot" about it. Already - and it is not even the New Year yet - A' Bhan Ghradh has posted her intent to leave, and the unraveling of work has thus begun. I find it unlikely that this time next year my place of employ will resemble anything like it stands today. Looking at my circle of friends, I predict changes for many involved -Uisdean Ruadh, Snowflake, Bogha Frois, maybe even Otis (but in his case, only more success than he has already achieved).

Which leads me to the question above: where do I want to go next year?

Among the things I've managed to gather over the course of a career and life, one is that it never pays to be taken by surprise by events. Work environments can change in the blink of an eye with even the departure of one - and once changed, they become something different and not always pleasant.

Change is coming: what will I do about it?

I started to push my goals out onto paper last night. In general, they ones that flowed out were not ones that particularly surprised me: Physical, Financial, Personal, and even Professional were similar to years past (telling me that I really have never achieved any of them) with one small exception: the "Become a Published Author" moved from a personal to a professional goal.

That one scares me a little bit (all good goals should, right?), as it is 1) way outside my comfort zone and 2) making a declaration of sorts - the declaration that in some form or fashion, I'd like to write for a living. Scary stuff.

The two remaining categories - familial and spiritual - hover in the background, nagging at me a bit further. These, too, are areas of change for 2012 - or need to be. Familial needs to continue to be around relationships and doing things together (I am still stunned by the amount of interruption the layoff and move away put in in place); spiritual - I'm not sure yet what this part means, other than my commitment to Christ needs to be 1) Deeper and 2) More real.

The New Year is coming, and change is coming with it. Will I be ready - or I will swept away surprised that change came at all?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Father's Gift

I think the most surprising gift I got this year was the one I didn't anticipate from the person I didn't anticipate it from.

I am a father of daughters. I have attempted, in my broken and fairly unorganized way, to raise them in such a way that they learn to stretch their wings and explore, to believe in God and the plan He has for them through the talents they've been given, that they learn to feel confident in using their talents and trying new things, and that they learn that their talents and gifts are not only for themselves alone, but for the good of others as well. Through them and their talents, they express the love of God to a world desperately in need of it.

A tall order to be sure, and one which I'm never quite sure I'm fulfilling well. There are times I see hints of it, but a great deal of time as well where it feels as if one is tilting at windmills. Do such things really have impacts on their lives of our daughters?

Enter the Christmas present. Enter Buttercup.

I get to cheat in a way that you, gentle readers, do not: I get to see her daily posts on Facebook. I have watched over the last few years as she undertook a dream which she had put aside - to get a college degree in teaching - which has morphed into her life's calling helping autistic children.

And here's the cool part: she speaks constantly in her writing of her father.

He passed on in July 2010 and so has never (physically) seen all that Buttercup has done in this time. But that hardly means he is not present in her mind: nay, her writings and thoughts drip of him with so many entries; even this year at Christmas, she speaks with high praise of a gift she received, a quilt made of his shirts, a physical reminder of his presence.

I say that his influence continues because she says that his influence continues in her life to this day: in her gardening, in her service to others, in her faith. She keeps on her desk a wooden apple, a constant reminder of him.

And a great comfort it has been to me as I work through what so often seems to be the wreckage of my life, hoping in some way or shape to inculcate what I would wish that my children would know and internalize long after I'm gone, to see that in at least one case that I know of and can attest to, such a thing actually can happen: we can do what we hope to do.

And that hope, that example, is the greatest gift I received at the end of one long year and the beginning of the next: lessons can be learned and lives influenced (and others therefore changed) by the example and lessons of a father.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Year of Living Courageously

Dear Friends,

And so the end of another year is upon us, the looming gift of 366 days (Leap Year, you know) an unopened packaging waiting even as we close down the last week of this year.

Perhaps you, like me, are examining the year that has gone past, realizing that there was too little done for you wanted to do or what you needed to do and too much done that which had no lasting import; you find that the end of the year this year leaves you much in the same position that the beginning of the year did.

Let us take an oath, you and I: Let us make this The Year of Living Courageously.

Why Courageously? Because the world is in sore need of you. It is in sore need of the talents and gifts that you (and I) can supply.

And truth be told, you (and I) need to live up to a better and higher level. Truth be told, if we are where we were at the beginning of the year, we've actually declined, because we've lost a whole year of living.

But I warn you up front: The greatest obstacle to living courageously is not those around you (oh, they'll mock or discourage). It's not the circumstances that will seem to be against you (they will always be against you somehow). And it's not the tides of history that seemingly sweep away any change you desire to make in yourself or the world out to the sea of anonymity (these tides have always swept through human history).

No. The greatest obstacle will be yourself.

Courage is like any other talent. We have to train ourselves to use it. And the first time we use it - the first time we try to live courageously - it will feel like death. We'll feel as if we're a tender shoot, sitting in the hot New Home sun, withering under intense heat of the scrutiny of others but even more so under the scrutiny of ourselves. We'll feel embarrassed and unworthy and a failure.

We'll survive, of course. And we'll do it a second time. And a third time. And it will feel like dying again.

But over time, what we'll find is that courage is like any other muscle: use it enough and an iron-hard conviction will develop within us, something that is no longer swayed by the opinions of others - or the opinions of ourselves. Living courageously will become part of each and every action that we take.

I don't ask about your goals or aspirations or dreams. Live courageously, and these will flow out of you as naturally as breathing.

A few are born courageous - the rest must become so by effort.

Your Obedient Servant,

Toirdhealbheach Beucail


Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Away

This Christmas is a first in 44 years. It's the first Christmas I won't spending with my extended family.

For the course of my life, we've always been with extended family: with my parents (of course) and sister and my maternal grandparents through high school. In college, I came home for a bigger set of family - aunts, uncle, cousins, eventually a brother in-law as well. When The Ravishing Mrs. TB and I got married, I added another layer: in-laws and sister in-law and another set of aunt, uncle and cousins.

The arrival of children just meant we went more places: one day with my parents, one day with my in-laws, and occasional meanderings through the homes of other relatives. They were only 2 hours apart, so it hardly a stretch that we wouldn't see everyone during the Christmas season.

And this year, we will be by ourselves in New Home.

I'm not necessarily overly sad about it - I mean, compared to the sacrifices so many people actually make, this is a little thing. And it's not as if we're alone - we have Na Clann, which I'm sure will keep things interesting enough with the de-packaging and assembly of various Christmas arrivals. They'll not be an absence of joy or Christmas here.

I suppose the thing that made me start about it more is simply that it is happening - the sort of milestone that one realizes one has passed only after the car has flashed by it. It's more the realization of something being different than something missing that makes it interesting to me.

Sometimes the change in the season of life is so subtle that it escapes even ourselves.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Last Day of Work Before Christmas

Today is The Last Day of Work Before Christmas.

The Last Day of Work Before Christmas is always a somewhat confused time. On the one hand, there are things that must get accomplished, especially in light of the fact that many people take the week after Christmas off, so signature and approvals will not be available before the end of the year. It's a madhouse of scurrying, writing, cajoling and whining to get things accomplished either now- or next year.

On the other hand, there is a sense that it is almost a day of non-work. Personnel on site are always about 40% of what is normally there, so many things simply can't get done. There's almost a sense of a holiday at work as well, the feeling that the clock is slowly ticking down to freedom. People take longer than they usually do to stop and drop off paperwork to chat for a few minutes with gloating or despairing depending on how much time they are taking off. Individually decisions are made about how much work actually can get accomplished by the end of the year: by 12 PM, people starting moving things off of their lists with the thought "I can do it next week when no-one is here" or "I can do it next year".

The one almost universal tradition - almost everywhere I've worked - starts around 2 PM or so, when people start checking their computers for the ever-hoped for "Let's close early" e-mail. In some places it's merely a periodic check; in others, work almost slows to nothing as individuals cluster like quail, wondering if it will happen or when.

But inevitably something happens - the "get out of work early" message or simply the winding down of people's day. By the time the end of the day rolls around, the workplace is silent - not just the silence of people being absent, but the more profound silence of people dropping their work cares and sorrows on the way out the door.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Writing by Christmas Tree Lights

The two weeks around Christmas are always unusual for anyone that has children, especially when they have holidays. The normal bustle I would associate with this time of morning has completely disappeared; everyone is sleeping in late today. The house is quiet, with the exception of Kiki the Pseudo-Eagle, who is testing the locked door of her cage to see if by chance it's open this time.

It's a overcast morning here in New Home: it is the cold of fog but not the its misty covering, the deadening without the blocking of vision. It's quiet as well: the vacation seems to have extended to those around us, as I can hardly hear the sounds of any cars motoring off to school or work.

Which leaves myself and the Christmas Tree.

The joy of Christmas Tree lights is that they bring a multi-coloured twinkle to the writing experience. They're not much for lighting any keyboard, but the red, green, yellow and blue play at the edges of my vision as I type. They bring a sort of seasonal cheerfulness to the morning as they silently light the coming of the Saviour. They cast a happy sort of silent cheer throughout the living room and throughout my heart.

There's a sense of peace I can't fully define as I sit in this silent house which is filled with my family at rest, as the pets quietly munch away or occasionally chirp, the Christmas Tree lights reflecting off the bottoms of my eyelashes and patchworking my sweatshirt with colour. I know the day is coming but somehow I cannot find it in myself to become concerned about it.

Sometimes, it seems, the greatest task is not so much doing as it is resting in the moment.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

On The Road

I find I like traveling alone less and less.

Business travel is becoming more and more of a less desirable option. It wasn't always so - at one time, I was happy and excited to go. I liked going to new companies and new places, seeing how they did things, and then returning. I like what went along with it - hotels, eating out, travel points.

But now I find it much more of an undesirable option.

Why? The single biggest reason is that I now begrudge the time away from my family. Every night I'm here is a night I'm not with them, a night I'm not in familiar surroundings.

I like traveling much less than I used to as well. Not just the airport experience since 2011. The planes are more packed, the waits are longer, people and their darn "it can roll on, so it's a carry-on" - even if it takes an entire compartment's worth of space - are more annoying.

But it's the fact of being alone as well. I don't really like to eat out by myself, or really do anything alone - typically I'll find what's in the hotel to eat or right near it, get my food, then scuttle back to my room. I'm not one to find enjoyment in the "freedom" of being temporarily unencumbered by responsibilities.

Do I still like seeing other companies? Of course I do. That part is still very enjoyable to me. It's just the all the parts in between that have slowly lost their luster.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rain and the Universe

I woke up early this morning. After flopping around for a while, I got up to avoid disturbing The Ravishing Mrs. TB. I came downstairs and performed my usual morning routine - Read, Pray, a little theology, a little language - even a bit slower than I usually do them, as it was early and I had lots of time, right? Made Coffee. Unloaded the Dishwasher. Fed the Rabbits. And then finally got dressed to go running.

Literally, as I was tying my shoes, I heard the sound of rain starting to pour coming from outside.

I went outside and looked: sure enough, the skies had opened up and started dumping the rain that they were promising all night.

I stood there for a moment in the door frame, looking at the rain as I rocked back and forth in my tennis shoes, trying to decide if it was just a burst or would continue. The rain showed no signs of reducing in intensity in the gray pre-dawn - in fact, it seemed to increase in intensity as if to mock my thoughts. I sighed, went back inside, and grabbed a cup of coffee instead, contemplating the timing that caused it to rain almost the second I planned to go out, after 1.5 hours of activities inside with no rain at all.

There really are times that one feels the very universe is opposed to one's efforts.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Iaido in the Mist

One aspect of New Home that continues to surprise me is the temperature fluctuations. In a one week period, we have probed the depths of the high 20's as well as getting up to later to the low 70's. It is a novelty to me that such swings can occur when one is used to a "fixed" season of the year.

This morning was one of those mornings. I peered out the window and discovered a fog, a mist which had covered the world in damp yet was surprisingly warm. Warmer than it's been in a while in the morning, I grabbed my bokken and headed outside.

I love the world in a fog - more so in a warm fog, as it turns out. The light from streetlights and outdoor lights is diffused, pouring through the gaps in the fence on visible chains of photons. The sound seems muffled as well - not just the quiet of morning, but the deadening of all sound.

The treat for me was the moisture- so much that it dripped as a slow rainfall from the oaks hidden in the foggy half-light.

It was, I decided, perfect Iaido weather.

Assume the position. Migi, Hidari. Hand to tsuba and tsuka as I turn my body and step migi. Saibiki as I pull the saya down from the blade.

And plop! A large drop of moisture lands squarely on my head (the samurai tales never mention that). Shake my head, continue on.

And so I move through the morning mist, drawing and sheathing, cutting and blocking, moving forward and back as the bokken scatters the diffused light and water into invisible waves which make the plunging drops of collected moisture plunge to the ground.

There are times - all too seldom -when in practicing a martial art one reaches the point where not only is one's movement in synch, but the very atmosphere one practices in is equally balanced, where the movement of one's self and the movement of the world around them come together to create an experience which while being simple practice session shines to the very core of the art itself.

Today was such a day.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Clicking

There are moments in life when things just click.

I've learned such moments are random and unplanned. I can't get everything in order, lay out my plans, and then suddenly things just work. I wish I could - it would make things a great deal easier.

It comes at odd times- in the middle of a Saturday, or on a Tuesday at 2:00 PM, or on a Thursday evening. That sense that life is working, that progress is being made.

I wish I knew what created that sense, or what maintains it. I'd like to believe it's planning, or effort - but too often it seems to be neither of those. Instead - and this is the most surprising thing - it literally seems to be something from God. A sense that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, even if it doesn't always feel like it is the thing I want to be doing.

I wonder if too much of our personal discontentment stems from expectations we put on our lives ("Disillusionment is the child of illusion" - Chip Ingram) and less from the actual circumstances therein.

Like so much else, I'm not sure. All I can say with certainty is that sometimes the less hard I try, the more things seem to work well. At times, one can almost hear the "click" of one part of life sliding in to another.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Sharing Space Again

I seem to be reaching a tipping point of sorts.

I'm finding parts of myself in the last two weeks that I don't believe I've seen in years. This fellow that occasionally speaks out of my mouth and acts with body is not the guy that usually lives in here. He's more decisive, more vocal, more willing to speak up and more willing to act.

I have no idea where this fellow wants to go. I'm not sure he does at this point either - or maybe he does and he's just not telling me about it. He seems to act like he has some kind of plan, or at least some kind of idea what the direction he wants us to go is.

If I had to guess, he's that fellow that lived here some years ago - back in the days when things were for the choosing rather than for the getting along (see yesterday's post). He's certainly much braver than I usually am, more willing to be confrontational if there is an idea or subject worth discussing instead of just sitting back and whimpering about it or stewing after the fact.

I'll be honest - I kind of like him. It's nice to have some company here, especially some company that (for once) doesn't tear down the current inhabitant or make him feel guilty about not doing things or just sigh and feel hopeless along with him. This fellow just picks up and starts going in a direction, dragging the rest of me behind him.

Sometimes we lead ourselves. Sometimes we get led by ourselves. As long as it's forward movement, I'm not sure that it matters.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Calls

I'm starting to get calls from recruiters again. I'm not sure that it's not the end of the year rather than my particular resume or skill set, but coming in they are.

It's a good practice for no other reason than it makes one get into better practice when speaking. It's also good this time around because it is making me more formally evaluate what I really want.

In the past there seems to have been a progression in why I changed jobs: learning new skills (1996-1999), following a mentor (2000-2004), doing my own thing (2004-2005), and then just finding a job to keep the bills paid (2005-present). If I examine that progression (never thought of it that way before), what I see is that my choices in why I do things have gotten less and less - I've chosen less to advance a career than for my own personal reasons (and eating, I suppose, does constitute a personal reason).

One's own personal reasons are not bad things to be sure - but they can interfere with life if there's no master plan behind the choices - and more often than not, that is me.

So as I speak to these people I'm asking the question: what is it that I'm seeking in a position? More money? Sure, that'd be nice. Location? Yes, if it's convenient. But more often than not, I'm talking in terms of career advancement, of what I want to accomplish with and through any new position.

Jim Rohn, a very wise man, once said "The only way things are going to change for you is when you change". It's not the change of job or location or position I'm really seeking, I suppose: it's how I can and will change as I go to that position.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Friend, Manager, Leader

Finding one reason I may have been brought here yesterday.

I am having an internal confrontation in myself between being a friend, a manager, and a leader. One I do very well, one I do passably well, and one I don't do very well at all. It is an issue because it impacts not only my professional life, but my personal life as well.

I realized last week that at the end of December, I will have a manager for 10 years. This is an exceptionally long time to be a manager, especially as I have moved from company to company several times. Originally I came up with other reasons, like it was different bosses, or I came out of the industry and in, or that I came to a new portion of the industry. But in considering it, I have begun to wonder if it is not if fact something within me that keeps me here.

Not that I want to be something beyond a manager necessarily (yes, it's inevitably more money) for the title, but I am realizing that I want more of the personal development that inevitably goes along with it. A leader or manager - a good one, anyway - has skill sets which are valuable in every walk of life, not just in the working world.

And so I sit, looking at the walls that I have become pressed up against and am unable to get through. I intuitively understand that I have reached this limit and that I need to go through the wall, but I do not see the mechanism that I can use to get over, under or around it.

The other issue I need to confront - the one that weighs heavily on me - is the changes that will inevitably occur.

I have a need to be liked. On the one hand, it's a great tool for friendship and certain managerial and departmental relationships - after all, a pleasant person is always better to deal with, and people pleasers will go long lengths to be pleasant. On the other hand, one becomes handicapped into making certain decisions by the fact one is not dealing with reports or employees but friends. As well, if one simply starts changing it creates issues with the ones around you, who do not always understand or appreciate the change and so react as it has upset the relational applecart.

And so I seem to sit here at this precipice, hanging over the edge of doing and becoming. realizing that action must be taken if I am to grow, but shying away from the actions and all the consequences they entail.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Christmas and Revelation

Every year at this time, I read about the end - at the beginning.

If you'll flip to your "Read Through the Bible in A Year" section in the back of your text, you'll find that the month of December is largely taken up by the book of Revelation (no surprise, it is the last book in the Bible). Every year for last 5 years at least, I've found myself here at Christmas.

I realized this morning as I read Revelation 1 that it is an interesting contrast. Here, in the season of the year when we celebrate the advent of Christ, I find myself reading about His return.

The contrasts abound: At His birth, almost no-one recognized His arrival except His parents and some shepherds; in His Second Coming, no-one will be able to help but recognize Him. At His birth He came as a humble peasant child; in His Second Coming He will come in the majesty and glory of the Godhead. At His birth he came powerless; at His Second Coming He comes as the Omnipotent Conquering King of the Universe.

A curious paradox at this time of celebration and mirth, of Christmas trees and carols and eggnog and good cheer.

Surely we should celebrate His coming? Of course - the Coming of Christ, the God-Man who paved the way for the salvation of man, is worthy of remembrance and celebration - not just now, but every day of the year.

But I wonder in our haste to filled with the seasonal spirit if we forget, we betray to the world that our focus is always less than what it should be. We see the First Coming and celebrate; we know the Second Coming is nigh (it's always nearer than it was yesterday), yet we often bury it beneath a weight of eschatalogical words or treat is as the something which is someday coming, but shouldn't concern us now.

We forget - at our peril - that for Israel as well, the Messiah's arrival was something so long in coming that they also eventually failed to look for that which was promised.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Taking Time

I engaged my reading sense this weekend.

On a random splurge at Half Price Books I obtained two books: one Neuromancer by William Gibson, which I hadn't read in many years, the other Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell. It's been a while since I looked to just buying two books for the sheer pleasure of reading.

And read I did. Neuromancer was consumed within 4 hours (including a nap); Shackleton's Way was 2/3's done by the time I left for church on Sunday. I reveled in the opportunity to just sit and drink in good literature.

I compare that with this morning, where I tried to read a bit more of Shackleton's Way as part of my morning reading as I enjoyed it so much. It wasn't the same: I got some reading done, but it seemed I was hurrying so much that I barely had time to enjoy what I was reading, let alone absorb it as I had done the previous day.

The difference surprised me greatly. Same book, same me, but different circumstances in reading. In one, I read purely out of enjoyment with no time frame; in the other, I read in an allocated time frame, seeking to fit something else in an already loaded schedule. The results, both in my sense of enjoyment and my sense of learning, speak for themselves.

This vignette points out to me a core issue in my life: when I try to fit too much in, I scarcely enjoy any of it, whereas if I take the time to focus on what I am doing without a sense of "15 minutes", I derive true joy and learning.

It is not, apparently, that I cannot do many things in short bursts, it's that I cannot do them well or with a sense of gaining anything from them.

When, I wonder, was the time that reading became something I had to do in small bursts, rather than something I could do over longer periods of concentration?

Friday, December 02, 2011

Missing Christmas

Probably missing my Christmas Spirit again.

When I was young, it always felt like Christmas took forever to get there - and once it did, I can remember that it had a definite sense about it being a different time of year: the music, the food, the decorations and Christmas tree, the reminders of why we have Christmas at all around me.

Now, December is not only just another month of the year, it's often the worst month of the year. Every project that was not completed suddenly needs to be done in 20 working days. Music gets ploughed under the movement from here to there. Food becomes something you hope someone else is making because you don't have the time, and decorating becomes a chore. It often feels like Christmas has been reduced to a two day event: Christmas Eve and Christmas.

I wish I knew how to effectively address the problem. I don't really: it's not as if I can march into my place of business and say "I'm working only this hard. Projects are not completed: not my fault. It's Christmas, after all. " I suspect the conversation after that would be short, sweet, and involve a cardboard box.

But surely there is something to be done, probably within myself (as it most often is required). If I cannot seem to muster the ability to celebrate Christmas as I should in the midst of life, perhaps the problem lies with what I expect of Christmas and how I view it. Christ is no less real today than He is the other 11 months of the year. The fact I feel I can celebrate His advent less than normal may be an indicator of how much I value Him rather than how much time I feel I a allocated.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Time Prison

I sat down last night (after leaving work late) to review exactly what I have to do at work before the end of the year. By my calculations, I have 250 odd things to accomplish in 20 days. Add to this at least half of that time already has some activity consuming part of all of the day, and you'll begin to understand why I gave a deep sigh when I finished the list.

I'd love to say that the opportunity is there for me to push some of those things off, that somewhere there is some give for me to fall back on. The reality is that I don't think there is. Any backup is called me.

I'm having to start an activity I am not really good at: scheduling each day, every day.

Simply put, now that I have my list I will start checking off what I have to do by the end of the year, figuring days, and saying "on this day, I have to do this and this". And then do that and that - not run off and do other things, not allow myself to be interrupted by others and their tasks, but just keep on and finish what I am doing.

This will be an interesting (if somewhat tiresome) exercise, as I have never tried (or had) to do this level of planning before. I've no idea if it will work or not. I've no idea if I will survive or not.

But if time is the limiting factor, then I need to spend it as carefully as I can - even if that means totally regulating it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Centering

How does one become an effective thermostat instead of a thermometer?

I've been pondering this as I have tried to measure my reactions after coming back from a five day vacation to work. The first day - a half day - was fine. I was able to maintain my center and control how others made me feel. By the end of the second day I was seemingly right back where I started from before I left, feeling overwhelmed and angry.

What happened? How did I move from being a thermostat (controlling my emotions) to a thermometer (allowing outside influences to affect my emotions)?

Physical impact? Sure. My sleep pattern was almost immediately disrupted during my vacation as soon as my brain figured out work was coming up. I've stated it before and will again, physical exhaustion is one of my worst enemies.

Overwhelmed? Again, this is probably a factor. Moving from meeting to meeting, making a presentation, getting given 10 new items on the my list with short deadlines, all conspire to tear down any attempt at control.

But the biggest factor, it seems to me, was the inability to center.

From the time I walk in the door to almost the time I leave, I am constantly busy, either doing my own tasks or working on the tasks of others. On occasion I have lines of people outside of my office, waiting one at a time to bring me their problem for resolution - and right after, another crisis which needs resolution immediately.

What this leads to is being rocked back and forth from crisis to emergency to mundane tasks - all without the buffer of taking a moment to stop and think.

One of the two operative words in "Self Control" is "control" - but to have control, you need to be able to pay attention. One does not drive a car while writing a blog post with any degree of success.

So this is my task, or at least one of them: to start, before each new thing, by taking a breath and minute to find and readjust myself to the task at hand.

I cannot change the situation directly. I can change myself.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Excursis: Reaching Out

Facebook performed one of their periodic reboots on me sometime between last week and this. When I went to my business page I found that my postings are no longer "viewed" by people, they have "reached" people.

"Reaching out" is one of those terms that has become vogue in the last five years. Consultants, sales people, and recruiters no longer call or contact you, they "reach out" to you. I don't know why the term bothers me, but it really does.

Reach, for those who were wondering, can be used as a transitive or intransitive verb. As a transitive verb, it means to stretch out, touch with a part of the body, to pick up , to hand over, to make an impression on, to communicate. As an intransitive verb it means to stretch or strain after someone, to project, to arrive.

I suppose the impression is supposed to be that reaching out is equivalent of communicating, that somehow reaching out gives a more personal cast to a communication, that I am am not just "communicating" with you but rather am putting forth my proverbial hand in the hope that you, too, will reach back to me.

Maybe it's the implication of a relationship. Reaching at any of the definitions above implies some level of contact between the two individuals, be it two lovers or a politician with their constituents. Either way, in my world such a contact has not occurred: you're calling me, you're writing me. That's not a personal contact. You're presuming a relationship that doesn't exist.

The other thing I think I find bothersome is the the implication of reaching out. Either 1) You're a superior reaching down; or 2) You're someone needy who's reaching up. In either case, that's not really what I want or need in a contact. I need honesty and equality: you've something that I might need, or I've something you need. In the context we're discussing, this is a business relationship, nothing more. Treat it as one.

I'm sure I'm a single rock in the incoming tide of language use, and I will be one the one to go under the tide of new language usage. But usage or no, I will not surrender the basic premise that relationships are built, not presumed, and that "reaching" or "reaching out" involves a level of personal contact far beyond the use it is being pressed to.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Back To Reality

My parents have just left.

Conflicting feelings about it. On the one hand, I am sorry to see them go, as I am sorry to leave when we are visiting them. Visits twice a year when one is used to twice monthly visits is a hard thing.

Sad as well because their departure seems to herald the return of the ordinary. The humdrum. The "Life as we know it 50 weeks a year".

Even as I sit and write this, the workload I have not done and the presentation I have to do tomorrow are creeping into my consciousness. A raft of exercises- petty at best, irrelevant at worst - are waiting for me on the other side of noon, clamoring for energy and attention.

The thing I don't want - the thing I fear - is that I will slide back into my "Life as we know it" stance, that the thoughts and ideas that may have percolated over the last week will be washed out to see like a sandcastle.

If I want to see more significance, I need to find the way to the significant act - such as the people in my life - and leave the insignificant - such as a report on metrics that no-one truly cares about and everyone forgets - behind.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Paralysis

I feel paralyzed.

Paralyzed by what, I'm not sure. It's not quite indecision, nor is it completely from the choices I perceive I have. But it is definitely a paralysis of life.

I find it hard to engage in any activity, even one's that I usually enjoy. There seems to be a certain pointlessness to any activity, a pointless made more poignant by the fact that large portions of my life - work, for example, simply is at it without recourse.

How do I shake this paralysis of action?

It stems, I trow, from a lack of direction - any lack of direction - in my own life. That has to be the first thing - related, I suppose, to my thoughts here about goals of some kind, any kind. And a sense, I suppose, that in a great many ways I have reached the end of the line with where I am - that the road I am on only leads to a cliff over a canyon I cannot bridge.

It is time for that (for me) most ugly of tasks: making a decision and sticking with it.

The writing is clearly there. Anywhere else that I am going to go requires me to pick a path - a different path, in most cases - and follow it through.

Two of my weakest skills. Lovely.

But this is not sustainable either. This vague sense of being able to do nothing, of having neither the incentive nor the desire to take any action, is more bothersome and disheartening than most people can imagine.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Fridays of The Soul

Ah, Black Friday: that shopping day of the year where stores hope to move product and shoppers (including The Ravishing Mrs. TB) hope to find bargains.

Do we ever have Black Fridays of the soul?

Do we ever open our souls to others - indeed, even to ourselves - for true review and reflection? Or do we ever go out and actively seek to know others and ourselves with the same dogged determination we will pursue a bargain?

It's odd that we have a day dedicated to the pursuit of material items, yet we (or at least most of us, myself included) never pursue the knowledge of self and others with the same intensity. At best we may do it once in a while or at the beginning of a relationship; at worst, we do it never.

My challenge to myself: take a day (I've already got one in mind: August 2nd, Failure Day) and plan to be absent from all your normal activities. Do it alone, do it with someone else - but just take one day to pursue a deeper knowledge of yourself or someone else.

I am willing to guarantee the results will be far more rewarding than the item you bought at Black Friday that now lies forgotten.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

And so it comes: Thanksgiving 2011. I have, as in years past, a good list to be thankful for:

- The Ravishing Mrs. TB
- Na Clann
- The menagerie that inhabits our home: Syrah the Mighty, the rabbits Snowball Midnight and Bella, Tink the Hamster, and Kiki the Parakeet.
- The fact that I have a job, even if it's not my heart's desire.
- The house we live in, the cars we drive, and all that God has graciously provided for us.
- That my own parents can come and spend Thanksgiving with us.
- Our larger family scattered throughout the US.
- For the new things I've done this year: cheese making, running a 5K, the Highland Games.
- Our church.
- Na Clann's school.
- Our health (too often ignored until it's gone).
- Iaido.
- All of the fine things we've discovered here in New Home.
- Our friends, here and scattered throughout the country.
- Salvation and the gift of Christ.
- The creation in which we live.
- And, as always, the opportunity to write.

It is good that at least once a year we take the opportunity to look and consider how much good we really do have to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's the Most Goal-Wonderful Time of the Year

The Thanksgiving Holiday usually signifies the official start of the holiday season. For me, it also traditionally signifies the countdown for next year's goals.

6 weeks for goal planning? I'm slow about how I choose them - working them, reworking them, trying to find a third way with them.

So slow, in fact, that I never got my 2011 goals on paper.

This is something that has not happened in 5 years or more. Why? Not because I couldn't come up with any goals, but rather I have lost heart in writing them. In other words, I did not create goals because I did not believe that I could reach them.

Perhaps this is the core of my despondency today - my lack of hope stemming from my lack of belief that I can achieve anything other than just getting by.

But is that legitimate? Is it legitimate to say that I will not aspire to anything because there is simply no way for me to achieve it? If that is my logic, then I have hobbled myself out of the gate before the race has begun. Just because goals and aspirations are not where my life is right now does not mean they are impossible, it just means I'll have to work all the harder to achieve them.

Part of that, I think, is simply due to being co-opted by the system in which I work, where there is little direct relationship between the amount of effort put in and any rewards that come out. All the effort in the world can be sunk in; the result is only more work and little notice, the dull hope of a small increase in pay and bonus.

But again, that is the fault of where I work, not what I do. I have worked plenty of other locations where those rules did apply, and the effort was noticed and rewarded.

But if I believe it's possible (not that it's a universal law, but it is highly predictable), that still means one has to have actual goals to shoot for - not ideas, not thoughts, not concepts, but actual goals. And they need to be goals that are actually larger than I think is possible, as I found in an excellent T.S. Eliot quote this morning: "Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."

"Make no small plans" said Daniel Burnham, "for they have no magic to stir men's blood...Make big plans, aim high in hope, and work." Here's to an early 2012 that will give direction and purpose.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bleak

Feeling at the end of the proverbial rut this morning.

Every - and I mean every - path seems to lead precisely nowhere. I am in angst of going to work today (it really was that bad of a day on Friday), yet in angst of the fear of something terrible happening at work - or not happening at all. Every activity of mine lies at my feet, it's path run to the point of a seeming blockade. All paths lead to walls, and the swirl of activities has become nothing more than a empty sound, a plain devoid of all.

I cannot see a future from here. This is the most bothersome for me. I feel bereft of anything remotely resembling hope - just a long bland tunnel of doing, rather than being.

In watching Avatar The Last Airbender with the kids last night, there is a point where one of the Master's tells a protagonist that thanks to her commitment, discipline and hard work, she has become a success. I look at my own life and feel even more lost, because I cannot see a place in the last years where any of the those factors has made any of a difference. Commitment, discipline, and hard work only seem to keep me in some kind of holding pattern, without any sense of going anywhere.

Where do I find hope? How do I locate some sense of direction, some shining light on a hill that seems more than just another star, long out of reach?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friendship is Where You Find It

The bulk of my friends in the years since I graduated from high school have been friends I found at work.

This is a stunning thought to me - stunning because the line of work I am in is not something that I would have ever really chosen, let alone thought about going into in school. I would have thought I would have ended up in something like I studied, dealing with people who dealt in thought and concepts and interests as I did.

Instead, I have found my friends to be in this industry I did not anticipate and so often feel out to sea in. Perhaps it is the fact that one spends so much time with one's coworkers that some relationship is predetemined. Perhaps it is because of the fact that in my industry I deal with intelligent, quirky individuals which appeal to me. Perhaps it is simply that this is where dregs of humanity congregate (of which I am one). But never the less, this is where I have found them.

One wonders if perhaps (in one of those pre-ordained acts God seems to spring on us) the whole reason God allowed me to be here in this industry, wandering from place to place (and indeed from Old Home to New Home)was the fact that He knew that this is where I'd find the people I needed to find to make it through my life. Another reminder, I suppose, of how much God knows about what He is doing - and how little we do, and how often I get these two concepts reversed.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cold Front

Early morning run:
I wish the wind would drive me
as overhead clouds.

Success

Sometimes letting go of our successes can be as difficult and freeing as letting go of our failures.

Successes can be tricky things. On the one hand, we want to succeed. Success feed our self confidence. Successes give us the sense of accomplishing things. Success is a measurable metric of our achievement.

But successes can also bind us.

Success in one area breeds more success in the same area, which can draw us down one path, excluding others. And even if we go down another path for other success, the second success can mislead us: in one circumstance, we close a million dollar deal; in the other, the cheese I made is edible. On the surface, one is wildly great and other is okay (or at least edible).

But what if the million dollar deal locks you into something that 10 years from now you'll hate? And what if the lopsided cheese you made today, if followed, could lead to a career in gourmet cheeses?

Success is not - and cannot be - the only indicator about what the purpose and direction of our life should be. Without intending to, it can in the end blind us to other options and possibilities and directions about where our true successes might be found.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Quality and Lures

I understand now the lure of producing things other than for yourself, the drive of making a little more money.

It starts innocently enough: you start making something for yourself, and you find you're successful at it. The next thing you know, you are starting to make it (or other things just like it) for others.

Life is good. Money is rolling in, things are growing, life is splendid.

But then something happens. A problem emerges. If something is done, it will interrupt the cash flow, be embarrassing. The pressure - if not from you, then from those around you - is to figure out a way to justify things. After all, it's not a serious problem, or it doesn't rise to the level of a real problem, or it you can find ways to verify the problem doesn't impact anything. And besides, the people you're making it for will never really know.

Before you are aware, you've gone farther down this road than you intended. Another problem comes up, and then another. Always though the pressure is to make things work, to figure out a way around or through. After all, it will create issues for income.

To some extent one could say (with some justification) that this mentality is just another fallout of the industrial age. In the pre-industrial age one often made things for one's friends and neighbors, and if the product wasn't good, they'd surely be around to tell you about it. But now there are multiple layers between manufacturer and the customer. Any issues will more than likely never be brought to light -and if they do, your customers do they same to you (undoubtedly), so it's really just status quo.

But in an age that argues for quality, that has individuals and societies that are organized around quality, that suffers from a lack of quality, isn't it a bit remarkable that we are now attempting to enforce something that used to be internalized but is now imposed from outside?

Not everyone is a victim of this, of course: there are corporations that practice high quality and individuals that don't practice it at all.

But the lure of money is a powerful one, whether imposed on ourselves or from individuals outside of us. It is often left to us to navigate the rapids with what we have, hoping against hope that the river will slow down and we can get ourselves to the shore.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thugs

I hate thugs.

I struggled through this concept yesterday, as I sat in a meeting where the self-appointed guardians of projects started pushing their own opinions and time lines down the throats of others - not for any reason or law, but simply because they believe that it should be so.

As I sat there afterwards, stewing in my resentment and anger, I realized: I hate thugs.

We typically think of thugs as low brow, heavy-handed types with no necks who use force to get what they want or enforce their own wills. But this is something we tend to associate with "undesirable elements" rather than with our own lives. This is a mistake, one that allows such people to get away with their will.

Growing up, I was the victim of thuggery twice: both times, as I recall, in fourth or fifth grade. In one instance it was a group of kids in my neighborhood; in another, it was at school. What I remember from both (other than the discovery that I could not defend myself) is the feeling of powerlessness I had in the situation, even more than fear. I was not the biggest child growing up, nor was I the most athletic, so my choices were turn and flee (or in my case, fling your skateboard, turn and flee) or get rolled (as in picked up and planted into the raised bed of dirt). In both cases, it took an authority figure to deal with the situation.

Looking back in retrospect, I wonder if this was the best thing. While it resolved the problem, what it did is instill in me a belief that I was powerless in such situations and could do nothing myself; I needed someone else to rescue me. I'm not one for fighting per se, but I wonder if defending myself would have taught a different lesson.

Because that lesson, once learned, is hard to escape from.

The reality is that such thugs dwell in all aspects of our lives. They may not use their fists and superior weight, but they do use their power, their intellect, their words and even (still) their physical presence to enforce their wills. And they are no longer simply bigger than we are: they come in all shapes and sizes, using all sorts of intimidation to enforce the dictates of their own wills.

What it leaves us with is a sense of powerlessness, a sense that I can't change anything, that I must accept the dictates of the thug because they will overwhelm me - maybe not physically anymore, but intellectually and spiritually. We become victims of our own fears, driven to hide in the recesses of our terror of being made to feel powerless again, hoping that some other authority will come and rescue us from the thug. We become dependent on others for the defense of ourselves and the initiation of our lives.

How do you fight a thug?

By standing up to them.

It's the only way. The second reality of thugs is they are often so used to getting their way, that they don't always know what to do when someone pushes back (an interesting sideshow, if you ever observe one, is to see a thug getting pressured by a more powerful thug). They often stop and give you the look as if they are in shock that anyone would counteract their decreed will. They sputter. They get red. They get embarrassed. They may lash out at others. They are not used to having their wills confounded.

Don't know how to stand up to them? Know their means of attack. Physical thugs, of course, are simply a matter of learning to defend ourselves. Other thugs are no different. Their methods of attack are standard and can be learned. Do they quote Scripture? Learn more. Do they quote regulations? Learn them better. Do they quote ideologies? Learn the ideologies, and learn the counterarguments.

Is it hard? Sure - who has time to read the Code of Federal Regulations or review Plato's theory of government in their busy lives. But the reality is this: there is something on the other side of our fear of thugs, something that if that fear is removed will be released. I suspect it's different for individuals, and I cannot even fully tell you myself what is on the other side of my own fear. But I can sense it there, needing only to have fear moved aside to be released.

It occurs to me that the day we stand up to the thug is our life we will find that we have far more power than we thought. And if we do it often enough, we will find we are capable of far more than we ever envisioned.

Let that day be today - and every day - in our lives.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Gray

What happens when the visions and dreams we hold get subsumed under an avalanche of reality?

There comes a time - seemingly often in my own life - where all that I wanted to do or intended to do or dreamed of doing gets crushed in the onslaught of the real world. I try and hold on pieces of it, or convince myself that it is only periodic and there a better time coming. But what happens when those, too, get blown away?

I bring to mind those books I have read where individuals pushed through to their dreams through a haze of disappointments and discouragements. I look at them, and then I look at myself, and I wonder "What if"?

But then I am brought down to earth by the life that I actually have, the responsibilities to which I am bound and the commitments which I have made. Suddenly achieving one's dreams seems far away when that achievement is won at any price.

The reality - although I hate to admit it - is that I am not a free agent in my own existence. I cannot do anything that I want to at any time. Instead, what I do is a careful balance of negotiation among the competing interests and responsibilities and individuals in my life.

Sound less motivational, doesn't it? Not "I am the Master of My Fate, I am the Captain of my Soul" but "I am the Negotiator of the Possible, I am the Keeper of Responsibilities". Hardly the thing to sell as a self-motivational title.

Which is back to the crux of my problem. How, in the midst of things as they are, do I find the spark to keep on having something to work towards? How do I find the motivation to believe that something I actually want is possible, rather than accept the seeming fact that all that is possible is responsibilities and commitments?

How do I not lose what is left of my inner core in the reality of a life which seemingly consists only of "musts" and "have-to's"?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Reservoirs of Strength

"A thing is going to happen that has not happened since the Elder Days: The Ents are going to wake up, and find that they are strong." - Gandalf the White, The Two Towers

How do we tap our reservoirs of secret strength?

We all have secret strength, those places in our soul that rise to the challenge of our lives. Too often they are buried under layers of everyday living, squelched like a spring under a mound of rock and soil. But, like any spring, it only takes clearing away the debris above it to have the water flow out.

But how do we do it? It's easy to conceptually discuss dirt and water (even kids get that), but how do we discuss it in terms of our lives, where the task of every day overrun even our best attempts to change the smallest thing in our lives?

I've three suggestions:

1) Believe - Without believing that we can - even if we don't know how - we will never make the attempt to try.

2) Commit - We need to commit - fully - to whatever it is we are trying to do. If running, I need to make the commitment that I will run on my days, regardless of how I feel. If writing, I need to make the commitment to write the 1700 words a day.

3) Push - Too often I find that I cannot because I will not. Unless I push myself to the edge of what I think I can do, I don't find out that there is more beyond that. I often think the edge is a cliff, when what really seems to be is a step up or down into a whole new plain.

Without believing, I will never commit - because I cannot commit to a vague idea or something I really don't think I can do. Without committing, I will never have the drive to push myself. And if I don't push myself, I'll never find out what I can really do.

Be an Ent. Wake up, and find that you are strong.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Practicing Prayer Cuts

I am not the best person at prayer.

I don't suppose I've ever really been that good at it - regular, I suppose, but never good. I don't know - I'm just never one of those people for who prayer seems to flow, or whom seems to be able to hold conversations with God. If it's not written down, I forget it; if I don't have a model, I seem to drift into the same five or ten items ever time.

But this morning, in the midst of my Iaido, I had an epiphany.

I was practicing chudon waza from seiza. Kneeling, one faces forward (mae), right (migi), left (hidari) and rearwards (ushiro), and either step out or turns and step as you draw into a suhei giri (straight cut; kneeling puts the cut at kubi (neck). I was practicing downstairs, so I was not able to rise for the rest of the kata lest I take out the glass lamp bulb in the fan. Instead, I practiced rising to my knees, turning and drawing (nukitsuke), then sheathing (noto) and doing it again.

As I continued to repeat the pattern - rise, turn, draw, sheathe - I realized that I was really practicing something no different than how I should practice prayer.

The great secret of Iaido - or of any martial art, I suppose - is not that there are always secret techniques (there's always more that you can learn) but the fact that any person can master them, if only they will practice. That's the secret: repetition. The difference between the master and the student is thousands of hours of practicing the techniques over and over (Malcolm Gladwell in his fabulous book Outliers: The Story of Success puts a number on it: 10,000) , slowly become better, making what must often seem like minuscule adjustments, until at last the techniques become as natural as breathing, the weapon an extension of one's body.

Prayer is no different than this. We think prayer is some great thing that we must instantly become great at to be effective. In fact, prayer is just the same: something the Christian is to practice over and over daily. We may perceive the improvement in our prayers, but one day we will find that praying has become as natural as any other conversation we have.

We are at a disadvantage: we read the great prayers of Moses or David or Nehemiah or Daniel and rate ourselves against them. What we do not realize is that these were not prayers pulled out of nowhere; these were the prayers of men who had spent a great deal of time praying, who had practiced prayer until they could pray with great effectiveness and power.

So when I pray today or tonight or tomorrow I have a new perspective: it's not just that I'm praying and talking to God (which is, of course, of supreme importance), it's that I'm training myself in prayer the way a warrior trains in Iaido: regularly, patiently, incrementally.

Early Autumn Moon

The bright Autumn moon:
does it's light make morning cold
or is it the wind?

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Running In Grooves

I pushed myself this morning.

I'm trying to alternate my exercise program between aerobic (running) and weight lifting. Running is always something of a challenge for me - not to do it so much as to get myself to do it. Truth is, I'm lazy and would often rather spend my time thinking about running than actually doing the running.

But out the door I got this morning and headed down the road.

At about the half mile point, the thought floated into my head "We should do three miles today". I was feeling good. My legs didn't hurt and I wasn't too overly warm. Besides, that would be a 5k and that's what I was really working towards.

So off I continued to run. At about the 1.5 mile point, the thought comes back. And immediately gets shot down by the right side of my brain.

"Oh dear Lord, are you serious? Really? We're going to have run two miles anyway. I'm tired. It's probably later than you think, and you still have lots of things to do this morning. Let's just head back - yummy coffee is waiting." Back and forth the conversation went as I rounded the last curve and started up the hill towards the house.

And passed the turnoff by as I went on.

This probably sounds much more dramatic than it actually is. The point - at least the point to myself - is that I pushed myself beyond what I thought I was capable of.

More often than not, I'm less than energetic (that's a pretty way to say lazy). I do the minimum. I'd like to say there are reasons - like lack of acknowledgement, lack of reward - but in point of fact, I just don't like to make myself uncomfortable. I find that groove in my life and want to stick there.

But life is not found in the grooves. Grooves become ruts, muddy trails that stick us in the mire. It's only on the solid ground, the ground between the grooves, that we can make real progress.
However, in order to get out of the groove, it's necessary that we put in some effort, to push ourselves out of the groove. In the end, no one - friends, spouse, parents, children, even coffee (which otherwise can do so much) - can pull us out. We have to do it ourselves.

I made 3.25 miles this morning, beyond a 5K. I felt good when I ended - not great, but certainly better than I expected. Everything - including this post - got done this morning in the allotted time. The coffee was still hot. Life is good - because I pushed myself out of the groove.

And then, the Left Brain muttered, if we could only do 5 miles...

Monday, November 07, 2011

Task List

I have had a total of 1680 tasks to do at work since 25 April 2011.

Originally the Task List started out as an exercise in self preservation for all of us, a tool to demonstrate what we were actually doing and the work load we bore. As things came up, the intent was to grade them as to priority and type, then add them to the list. The hope, as I recall, was to give a tool to others to explain precisely what it was we did and how understaffed we were.

The original purpose of the tool has been cast aside (we got too busy) but I have patiently continued to maintain my own list as a testament to what I am doing and (hopefully) use it to justify my existence at the end of the year.

As I go through the list, what I find is that so many of the tasks on it were listed as "critical" or "Hot-Hot-Hot!" at the time they were initiated. Timelines which were critically dependent on one thing; turnaround times that "made the difference" to the client; things which simply "must be done": all now are little "complete" line items on the list.

The reality? Most of these made little or no difference, and the effort and time put in were swiftly forgotten once the task was completed. People "move on" with staggering rapidity, leaving efforts and time cast aside. In the end, we are as often judged by what people remember about us as much as it is what we have done for them.

Part of my heart cries out as I review the list every week that this is a sad commentary on my life: tasks marked "complete" on a list that, in five years, will probably not matter.

That old disconnect again: the reality of life versus the need to make an impact and difference through my work. How do I reconcile these?

Friday, November 04, 2011

End of the Week

Fighting the end of the week petering out again.

I seem to get here more often than not: that sense of Friday not as "It's the weekend", but a sense of staggering to the finish line once again. There's not sense of victory involved, only a sense of "it's done".

It is times like this that make me feel the burden of am I really moving forward in my life? Day feels like yesterday, month like last month. Things this year do not appear to be much different or changed or improved from things last year, and the future seemingly holds no different options.

I wonder if part of this is simply the reality of life. Before I had the ability to move around in careers more frequently, or even change them more than once; now, the focus of my career is not so much the ability to meet my own perceived needs as much as it is to have stability for those who depend on me.

Stability is good, but it brings with it its own set of issues: a sense of being trapped for one, a sense of becoming more dependent on circumstances beyond one's control, a sense of being locked in place.

This time of year is my usual "I need to get an education in something else" consideration period, that time of year just before annual reviews (and hopefully raises) that I become despondent about my ability to progress in my current career or start something different and think "If only I had a degree in X, I would be more marketable". Maybe - ask all the people with huge student loans and careers that pay less than mine. Maybe it's just catering to the fact that I really like to learn and am good at school. Maybe it's a recognition that the higher up you move, the more rarefied the atmosphere, and in my current choice I will always have a couple of marks against me from the start.

But all of this blends into a harmonious whole, a sort of low grade fever of despondency, which in turn tinges even the best news - a weekend - with a sense of "Yay?".

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Accomplishment

There's a new storm in the ocean of my employ: Medb of Connacht.

She is fascinating to me. She has the sort of management style that one would wish ( I think, anyway) from one's own boss: forward, honest, open. She takes action as well, instead of merely talking about things or taking the input of others and then doing nothing.

I think the thing that is most interesting to me is the difference in management styles: simply put, how does one end up with one's style?

I am not by nature a driven man. In some cases this works well - for example, the ability to determine what is critical and what is not, and to have perspective on the daily "rushes" that one often faces - but in other ways it does not. The chief example I can think of for this is the sense of not really accomplishing anything or having the inability to follow something through to the end.

Why is this? Why do I have this sense that I have difficulty in completing anything? Two reasons occur to me: one is that I seldom have a clear vision of what it is I want to accomplish; the second is that I little sense of what I will achieve when I accomplish it.

Clear vision? I often suffer for it. I have many good initial ideas, but seeing them in their final form is often fuzzy for me. I want to write: do I have a vision of what that book should look like, or how I will get there? Too often I do not.

The second issue - more damning, I think - is that I seldom have a sense of what the accomplishment will bring. I'd like to blame it on a long career in which much has been demanded and little reward returned, but that is not strictly fair. It's probably as often that I am not clear on what the reward really is. For some things - like Highland Games, for example - merely participating and not being sore at the end is the reward. For others - and let's be frank here - the financial reward is either not clear or not forthcoming at all, which tends to dampen enthusiasm; after all, how many "emergencies" can you deal and succeed at and still get virtually nothing?

I'd not trade my own style - it's me, and has served me well in many aspects, but accomplishment has not always been one of them. Perhaps it's time to learn a bit from a polar opposite.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Tomorrow

Tomorrow is something that is expected by almost everyone.
We believe in tomorrow as we believe in today,
thinking that as today went perfectly well or even ordinarily,
tomorrow will be the same.
Tomorrow, predictably, will come as today did:
slowly, gently, regularly.

But tomorrow is not predictable; tomorrow is wild and fickle,
because we do not know tomorrow.
Tomorrow may or may not come, and we will never know that
until we reach the edge of today:
for some, the tomorrow will roll in as the tide,
for others, today is the last tomorrow they will ever spend.

So how do we invest today:
preparing to live by the inertia of tomorrow,
or living now as if tomorrow was not a given thing?


Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Fellowship of the Ring

To celebrate Nanowrimo (because, of course, you're supposed to read a lot of books to help you write) I'm re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring.

I'm one of that approximately 25 year generation that did not have the visualization of Tolkien's world through Rankin-Bass' The Hobbit and Return of the King or Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings or Peter Jackson's mighty trilogy in the first decade of 2000. All of Tolkien's world lived in my head, so I got to come to the whole thing fresh.

In re-reading the book, what I'm captivated by is how good of a writer Tolkien really is. Even with the fine adaptation of Jackson's (which generally held the closest to the book), Tolkien's vision as expressed through his writing far excels anything that the movie visually shows.

But the strength of Tolkien's writing, as I journey with him again, is how much of his writing is dialogue, the interaction between characters, or the descriptive quality of the Fellowship's travel across Middle Earth. Tolkien paints what he knows, especially in the Shire: much like C.S. Lewis, his descriptions recall an English countryside which even in his time was rapidly disappearing. You can see the woods and hear the streams as you read along with them. Watching Frodo develop from a Shire-bound hobbit to one who will self sacrifice, or the growth of the courage of Sam and Pippin- these are things which are not overt, but subtly happen over the course of the book - the hallmark of a master writer.

In reading again, I feel sorrow - sorrow for those who thing The Lord of The Rings is only a movie series, or even an online game. In thinking that this is all there is - battles, Orcs, magic, with some travel thrown in - they miss the greater whole, a work by a man who studied the English language all his life and uses it masterfully.

Monday, October 31, 2011

NanoWriMo

So I've joined NanoWriMo.

NanoWriMo, for the uninitiated (which up to yesterday included myself) is National Novel Writing Month. It's a non-profit association (sponsored by the non-profit Office of Letters and Lights), whose point is to encourage authors to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.

I have either taken a bold new step, or completely sunk myself in over my head (for them that were wondering, the required word count to reach this is 1,600 words a day).

Bold. As if it was actually costing me anything but time to write this. But I at least want to try.

I've two unpublished manuscripts sitting here on my hard drive, both of which (I suppose) have potential but I find myself harbored in my own Port of Fear. The reality is, I have never like the critiquing process that is so crucial to writing, so I write for myself and then hide it away. The fact I went as far as I did to start this blog is (as I think about it) more of a risk than I had initially considered.

But even writing these other manuscripts, there is a still a story that lies buried within. A fantasy, the kind of which I secretly (almost as a sort of guilty pleasure) continue to love to read. I always have an excuse: not enough time, not good enough writer, no idea where it is really going.

But everyone I read simply say "Write". Whether it starts out good or not, whether the end product is good or not, just write. The rest can come later; the initial part is the most difficult.

And so what better way to try to write than putting myself up against a deadline, in something that requires my commitment (the least expensive and yet most difficult thing of all) - and publicly announce that I am doing the thing?

So you, my readers, can keep me honest: do I end November with 50,000 words and a completed manuscript, or do I (once again) make excuses for not doing something I want to do?

Hang on to your seats. Here we go.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Winter's Coming

Autumn has hit with a vengeance. It's approximately 0710, it's still dark outside, and clouds and cold cover the view outside of my window.

It's amazing how a simple denial of the sunrise and the howl of wind can change the perspective of the season. Suddenly, one moves from the sun and blue skies of earlier (when it felt like late summer) to a sense that winter has already come upon us.

Being in New Home makes this harder as well. In Old Home, I knew the seasons very well indeed: if one did not get one's garden in or other outside tasks done by the end of October, they might as well be written off until the beginning of spring because rain was on the the way. Here I have no sense of what can and can't be done, or when: by the weekend, the temperature may be back up into the 80's and this sense of winter may be fully gone,

But not totally, I think. The sun will still rise later - until the time changes, in which case it will set earlier. And even the best of temperatures will have in it the hint that winter has only stepped away for bit, not traveled on until the following year.

Even in the sun's light, the cold of the coming winter can touch my soul.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Entrenched Beliefs

It's amazing how entrenched beliefs cannot be seen.

Usually this is used in the context of things which are possible which someone thinks can't be done. Self belief, it has been said, is the cornerstone and change agent of life. Someone believes they cannot do something, when in point of fact it's their belief that keeps them from doing it, not actual facts.

That concept is the one we all like to dwell on. It's a positive story, one that everyone can relate to and see possibilities for their own futures.

However, there's another way that entrenched beliefs work: when something cannot work, but is believed that it can.

I was subject to another example of that yesterday, when I sat in a room discussing a subject which has been two years in the making. As we continued through the conversation, the basic assumption held by someone was that in fact that something would work - in spite of evidence to the contrary. All reasons for which something will not work begin to flow from other things - individuals, equipment, supplies - but are never pointed back to the initial question: will something work?

As I've sat through these conversations, the amazing thing is the sense of the individuals in the room as the conversations continue. Simply put, all spirit and energy leaves the room. People may be there because their attendance is required, but there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm or even suggestions at that point. People sit, get orders and leave, all knowing in their heart of hearts that the real questions have not been discussed.

This sort of thinking - not being able to question the fundamental concepts of a thing - are anathema to any business or relationship. In the end, what exists is either a series of "yes men", always agreeing with everything even thought it may not be prudent or true, or an environment where no-one volunteers anything, because any suggestions or ideas they have will (by default) be knocked aside or ignored.

Entrenched beliefs. Ignored at the right time, they can set one free. Ignored at the wrong time, they imprison far more thoroughly than any bars and chains.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reorganization

I am going through one of my periodic work area reorganizations.

I always dreamed of having an office at home: a large desk, a series of bookshelves lining the room with my texts, subdued interior decoration of my Japanese prints, recessed lighting.

For my entire adult life, I have had none of these things.

The closest was when we first got married in Old Home: I had a bedroom which was "mine" in the sense that it had my desk and computer in it - along with the spare bed and a lot of other things (the bright fish on the bed's comforter really added to the mystique of "my place"). Since then, my "space" has slowly contracted, from larger computer desks to a smaller desk in the closet. My current iteration is half of a folding table located in the game room, split with half an area for crafting and across from The Ravishing Mrs. TB's scrapbook table. On the bright side, I actually do get have bookshelves for once, although their not the oak closed cabinets I always imagined but rather a veneer-faded white, open faced, occasionally having shelves setting on dowels which I suspect where not originally envisioned.

So I reorganize from time to time, put things on the desk here with the computer, then pulling them off later as I try to find the new "way" that I want things to work, or at least they work for me.

In a way, reorganizing my work area is like resetting goals for myself: what is the thing of latest importance gets moved on their, things that are not working get pulled out. Perhaps it continues to reflect the unsettledness of my own mind and how I view myself: never quite sure what is of real importance, or maybe that constant redefinition of myself I constantly seem to be undertaking.

But the one good thing about workspace reorganization is that it is, for me, a form of centering, of returning back to the beginning. By the process of reorganizing a place which I recognize as purely mine, it becomes a form of renewal, of reorganization back to who I am and where it is I want to go.

In reality, I'll probably never have the great office I have always contemplated. That's okay I suppose - I have the office of my soul, which is by far the more important.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Old Dog, New Tricks

I became aware this weekend of at least one concrete good that has occurred as a result of the move. I'm trying new things.

In the two years and change since the move, I have:
- Undertaken Iaido.
- Participated in Highland Games.
- Begun making cheese.
- Ran a 5k.

This list interests me on two levels. On one level, it is interesting because these things were all something that (in some form or fashion) I have wanted to do, but never found the time or motivation in Old Home. In some cases it was due to opportunity, but in some cases it was also due to will.

The interesting (maybe more so) is that I have suddenly found that I can partake in new things - or really old things that I want to do - and do passably well in them. Sure, I'm never going to place first in the 5k or hurl a caber the farthest. But the reality is that I can at least try to do them, and achieve some degree of excellence.

As I begin to think about next year, my mind is seething with the possibilities. What new thing will I undertake next year? The list is perhaps not endless, but there can certainly be a lot more on it than I used to believe.

We never become too old to learn something new. We only become too set in our ways.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Autumn Sunday

Distant traffic sounds
are overcome by the doves
plucking seed from grass.

Running

So I ran my first 5K yesterday.

I've toyed with the idea of running in a race and even - at one time - set a goal for doing a marathon. But the preparation never worked out, and then I kept injuring myself or kept being lazy, so that slipped into the background.

But I started again this year, and after making two miles regularly, thought I'd take a chance on running 3 miles and change.

The weather, for New Home, was excellent: overcast, mid-sixties, the perfect weather (or as good as you'll get this time of year) for running. Once the race had started and everyone fell into their rhythym, the most surprising thing to me - frankly - was how good I actually felt. Sure, my miles tended to slow down - from 7 minutes to 8 minutes to 9 minutes - and I had to fight the rather strange urge to use the restroom somewhere around Mile 1, but I never really felt exhausted or bad or like I had to stop.

As I came across the finish line tired, and walked away with Na Clann to the water and fruit, what I realized was that I still felt pretty good - in fact, better than I could have possibly imagined. Even today as I write, there are no residual effects: my legs and feet feel fine, no pulled muscles. It pleasantly reminds me of my first Highland Games where, except for some cuts and blisters, I was fine.

The running was fun but revelation - both that I can do such things and that even my less than disciplined efforts in improving my health are paying off - are worth as much or more than the simple but meaningful phrase "I finished".

Finishing is good. Finding out you are farther along that you thought is better.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Overload

One of those "Where am I going" moments this morning.

I piled into the car running late from work last night, having left a large stack of documentation ready to be put into a binder (for review, signoff, and eventual filing in a cabinet drawer to quite possibly never be reviewed again), a large pile on my desk of things to do, and at least two things to do this morning prior to 1000 which would only get accomplished if I showed up early in the morning. To add to my joy, I had a vague sense of uneasiness as I got ready to leave.

As I drove off (to immediately get caught in traffic), I tried to put work behind me until the next day - but it continued to creep back into my mind: what I had to do tomorrow, when was I going to have time to do it all, what sort of landscape would I come into tomorrow, what battles would I have to fight. I sat there in the car, slowly moving forward, twitching back and forth between radio stations as I looked for something - anything- to take my mind off what I already saw looming in the coming morning.

I'd like to say that I was easily able to let everything go - that's not, and has never been me. That moment of complete overload followed me from the car to my home, from my home to my bed, from my bed to my lack of sleep and dreams and waking again at 0415 thinking "Hey, I'm up - I can make it to work early."

I'm finding I'm becoming nagged by this vague feeling that I'll never get all my work done and thus I always have weaknesses that can be exploited by those above me.

Yes, I understand that I have to work for a living - but if never completing everything, a vague sense of dread, and the resulting sense I have to work more to compensate for a lack of resources constitutes work, is that something that bodes well for a long term destination?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Autumn

The chill of Autumn has arrived in New Home. The mornings are darker, the air cooler, the light attaining that angle and softness that only Fall can bring.

Autumn is a season which I have come to appreciate more and more every year that it comes. So often we think of Autumn as a time of dying, of preparation for the death that Winter represents. Trees shed their leaves, many plants either die outright or prepare themselves for the rigors of winter, animals scurry about laying in their last stores for the coming ugly weather.

Admittedly, Fall can often be depressing. Once the beauty of the leaves turns away, we are left with a variegated pallet of browns and tans for our viewing pleasures. For those that love the sun, the shorter days and longer nights can be depressing; for those that love the warmth, it can be cold as well.

But I have come to see Autumn more clearly.

Autumn is not only a time of dying, it is also a time of preparing. Plants are dying, it's true - but as a gardener, there's a whole new set of plantings that occur for the coming spring ahead. Autumn is also a forced encourager: mindful of winter, it drives us to finish tasks which we would otherwise delay because darkness and cold are hard to work in. It is that time of the last harvest, when the gleanings of the garden can be collected before the final die off.

But perhaps most valuable to me, it is also a time of consideration: consideration of our own life.

Autumn is a subtle reminder that life is moving forward, and that the time we have now - no matter how long or short in the temporal sense - will eventually come to an end. Like the annuals in my garden, there is an end to our season as well. The falling leaves and brittle stalks are my own reminder that so much of what we spend our time on will fade into the soil of life. Am I seeking to build those things that last beyond life into my own? Or will I awake in the spring of Heaven to discover I failed to plant as I should have in the Fall of existence, with no harvest there to be taken.

Winter is coming, that is certain. How we act in Autumn will determine what we see in Spring.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Communication

Communicating is a hard thing.

Communicating - really communicating - is not only the ability to speak words and have them heard, but be able to convey them in a way that expresses what you intend to say instead of what other people think you say.

I actually feel I'm quite poor at this verbally. That surprises me a bit - after all, I can be one of the wordiest people I know and talk on for long periods of time. At the same time, communication seems - and actually is - hard for me.

Writing is easier. I'm not quite sure why, whether it's the medium (not face to face) or the fact that I can more carefully construct my thoughts before they are sent out rather than have them immediately transferred to the real world.

Phone conversations are an interesting medium - which sort of convinces me that it's a presence issue. I have no problem discussing things on the phone with individuals whom I cannot manage to spit out the words to face to face.

Why? I'm not really sure. It's not as if people's reactions are different on the phone as opposed to face to face. Maybe it's the fact that people's reactions are visibly displayed immediately - and to someone who is so often dependent on the reactions of others, it's a small form of torture.

Also, the most communication face to face most often happens with those who are closest to us - those that have (intentionally or unintentionally) the greatest ability to hurt us. A reaction from your manager about an idea is one thing; a reaction from a loved one about a personal issue is something altogether different.

So here's my issue: how do I learn to communicate better, all the time? How do I learn to speak what I mean without tripping over my fear of reactions.