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I've two unpublished manuscripts sitting here on my hard drive, both of which (I suppose) have potential but I find myself harbored in my own Port of Fear.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.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Loving What You Do

Reminded again last night of the power of loving what you do.

I had the opportunity as part of a local industry group to which I belong to tour a local microbrewery. It's small - a small warehouse with a tasting room. Split into two groups after the dinner, we walked through.

The surroundings were minimalist, the sort of start-up industrial appearance one expects concrete floors, concrete walls, with the stainless steel implements of brewing towering like sentinels above you.

But the best part of the tour was the guide himself, who was one of the owners. His enthusiasm for his job simply oozed from every pore. It was not enough that he obviously knew a great deal about what he was talking about, it was his demeanor and animation as he presented it. Here was a man who truly loved what he did (he started out homebrewing and moved up from there), had a dream, and is working very hard to make it happen. His open manner and the pride you could see in his eyes as he spoke was wonderful.

As I drove home three beer samples the wiser, it reminded me yet again how critical loving what you do is the key to any success you will find in the field of what you do. With the passion for brewing beer, I'm sure he would have never found the drive to learn, to volunteer, to work in other places gathering the knowledge required to one day have his own company, and sell others on the idea of his vision.

Without passion, anything can become drudgery. With passion, our dreams are only bounded by effort we will put in.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Empty Me

Holy fire, burn away
My desire of anything
That is not of you, that is of me
I want more of You, and less of me, yeah

Empty me, empty me
Fill, won't you fill me
With You

- Empty Me, Jeremy Camp

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hope

Hope is the indispensable ingredient in life.

With hope, all things seem bearable. Without hope, no matter if one had the whole world, life seems nothing but a long tunnel of despair that never ends.

What is hope? Merriam Webster defines it as: "to desire with expectation of fulfillment; to desire with expectation of obtainment; to expect with confidence." It that belief that something we want or desire will come to pass.

Note that hope does not incorporate any direct consideration of the odds against it. Hope does not preclude the probability of hard effort to reach the desired end; what it does do is believe that such effort will be eventually rewarded.

Without hope, effort ceases - or at least significant effort. We can go through the motion of our lives, but there is a sense of futility with which we do everything. It's the practical sense that everything we are doing is going to be packed up in a box, eventually to be sent offsite and then destroyed.

The object of hope matters as well. What do we hope in? What do we place our confidence, our desires into? Are we placing them into the appropriate vessel, or are we placing them in things which will fail us?

As a Christian, it is this point where I fail all too often. I place my hope in things of time - other people meeting my needs, a fulfilling career, a comfortable life, a meaningful existence. Not that there's anything wrong per se with these things; it's when I put my hope in these things, rather than the One who provides these things, that I ultimately fail.

And so it comes to focus. Where am I focusing my own hope? Is it on the things that will fail - those "broken reeds of Egypt" that eventually will not be able to bear the weight, nor meet the confidence I am placing in them? Or is it God, the One who Himself is hope?

But I must be careful. In placing my confidence in God, I need to be wary of the fact that my hopes are not the same as hope. My hopes are often desires; His hope is purification, salvation, and glorifying His name. In putting my hope in Him, I must needs hold all other things with a loose hand, lest in my need to have hope, I hold to the gifts rather than the Giver.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rain

I sit this morning looking out my window into the cool, overcast backyard - something I haven't seen for probably 8 months.

We finally received rain over the weekend - about 2.5" worth - and the resulting cloud cover kept everything cool throughout the day. That has held to this morning, as the gray clouds continue to cling tightly to the earth.

As I went out this morning to practice Iaido, the ground was damp and noiseless and gave a bit - not at all like the crisp crunch of grass and turning in the dirt I've been doing for months no. The yellow leaves of the falling oaks carpet the wet-brown earth as I look out this morning, nice blending in and on the yellow sun-seared grass.

The morning is muffled as I sit here and type, the sounds of life seemingly far more distant than they really are. A lone bird sings its morning greeting near our yard, as other songs sound more faintly farther away.

It's a comfort to me, as I try to mentally prepare myself for another day, that such things as the simple rain of God - long prayed for, much appreciated - can create a thing of beauty and peace almost instantly in the midst of drouth and dust.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Conscious Choosing: Vision

What is your vision?

Vision is fun. Vision is the future. Vision is that which we want to do, hope to do, some day.

But the problem with vision is that it often gets submerged beneath layers of life itself. Vision can become dimmed with time, dimmed with tragedy, dimmed with the daily act of living itself. Before long, the bright crystal windows we looked out from in childhood have become the fogged and dim with the coal smoke of reality.

But vision is necessary - indeed critical - for conscious choosing. We can make conscious choices with knowledge of ourselves, we can make conscious choices based on the values we have identified - but without the vision of where we want to go, we end up living in a small circle circumscribed by the realities we live in, rather than potentialities we conceive.

Fortunately, vision is probably the easiest of the three elements of conscious choice to discover. It's fun, it's exciting - because it deals with what we want to do with our lives.

Some starter questions:

- What impact do you want to have when you're gone?
- What would you really like to do?
- Based on your knowledge of self and your values, what is the best way you can express that?

Vision is the star ahead of us on the ship of Conscious Choice. Find that second star to the right, and sail on to morning.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Conscious Choosing: Values

How do we incorporate our values into our daily life?

Values are probably the most underrated and often ignored part of the combination of knowledge, values, and vision. Knowledge is always easy to convince people of (who doesn't want to consider themselves from time to time), vision is easy to get enthused about (the future is always exciting), but values are those hidden things which are too often easy to ignore or override in ourselves.

Ignore? Value, like knowledge of self, often requires us to sit down and think deeply in sustained ways about what our values are. Some are very easy to nail down but others are far more subtle, influencing us in ways that are surprising once we identify them. But without knowing them, they simply become ignored - or overpowered by other things we think are values.

Override? Too often in my own life, I have sacrificed expediency for my values. Values are often things which are not immediately or physically rewarded; the rewards are often internal, the result of a life which is in harmony with itself and what it believes. It's often difficult to explain to others the benefit of such an inner harmony - especially when the press is often to accomplish things now.

But in order to avoid ignoring or overriding our values, we need first to define them. And obviously in some detail and depth: the clearer we are, the clearer we can be about the conscious choices we will make and why we make them.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Conscious Choosing: Knowledge

How do we come to the knowledge of what is truly important to us, of what our priorities are in life? And how do we separate the things that are important from the the things that we say are important?

These answers are important - critically so - if we are to engage in the conscious choosing which defines a life which truly makes a difference and is a success.

The difficulty for me, as I consider the question, is the fact that what I often claim as a priority, a value, a thing of importance, is whether or not such things are so. How did I determine them? Was it my own determination, my upbringing, my acculturation, even (as C.S. Lewis would say) the fact that my coffee was good and I feel fine with the world? Too often I think they are a conglomeration of all of these things.

In considering the question, I think one has to start with the concept of time and limitations. We do not have all the time in the world - an average of 77 years for most of us - and we cannot ever do everything that we want. Too often we believe this not to be case: we think that youth goes on forever, or we will have endless amounts of energy and resources, or that we can do anything we put our mind too (we can do most things, to be sure - but at what cost?). If we believe time and energy and talent are endless, of course we will never focus - we will always believe we have enough time for something.

But reality is far different. There is a time for all of us, and our energy and talents are limited by time and entropy. Based on that, we need to consider what we really want to accomplish, what is truly worth doing based on those parameters.

Some of them are seemingly unrewarded in this life. For example, it is important to me that Na Clann have a close relationship with God and good spiritual founding. This is of such important that we have decided to sacrifice our time and finances to ensure (to the greatest extent possible) that this occurs. Is there necessarily any recognition or direct rewards accruing in this life? Probably not - but that's not really the point. It is a thing that is a priority to us. And it means there are things that we cannot do because of that commitment.

What I wish I had sometimes is the equivalent of a river in my life. As it moves through the plain or high mountains, it would grind or wash away the softer rocks and soils, leaving only those things that are harder. These remaining stones and rocks, I submit, are the equivalent of those things that are the true values, the true priorities in our life.

But whatever that process is, it must be followed. We must determine - we must be realistic - that ultimately, we all have limitations. The sooner we discover what is important to us, the sooner we can be about doing something to make those priorities a reality in our lives.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Conscious Choosing: Definition

"Define success, pursue it, and put a lot less importance on the other stuff. That's how to succeed on the only terms that matter: yours." - Jeff Haden

In this process of conscious choosing - of making a decision thoughtfully and knowingly, rather than drifting along with the flow of life - what criteria do we use to evaluate how we make decisions?

This is critically important. This someone, I suspect, most people don't do in any reasoned and thought out fashion. It's far easier to disguise a "going along" decision with a "choice we made" - but when pressed, we often cannot come up with the reason why we made that "choice" in the first place.

The key is definition - definition of ourselves (knowledge), definition of what we hold as things of the highest importance (values), and definition based on these two items of where we want to go (vision).

But definition is a hard thing: it's not like a television program which is piped through a cable and gives us "High Def TV". Instead, it's a reasoned and intensive process of looking internally at ourselves and what we value.

In the quote above, Jeff Haden makes the case that success is not something that can be generically defined. But many of us do, defining it as "living comfortably" or "money" or "a good family life". The problem with generic definitions are simply that they are generic and not really applicable an individual's life. We are all individuals; success for each of us, success that would make us truly happy and gratified, is as individual as we are. But without knowing, we will never take the step of actually defining.

"The unexamined life" says Socrates through his pupil Plato, "is not worth living". If unexamined is defined, Socrates is correct: we will not, in the end, have a life worth living if we have not defined how it is that we truly want and need to live.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Conscious Decisions

I consciously made a decision this weekend for the first time in a long time. The specifics are not important; the general concept is.

How often have I made decisions unconsciously, merely going along with the flow of things because "that's what everyone else does" or "that's the path"? Too often. That's a bit of a surprise to me as I think about it, because I think I too often don't decide anything at all - which is, of course, a form of decision making itself.

But this morning it was different; this morning I consciously decided for something instead of unconsciously deciding against something. I did it based on a sincere sense that the timing of the decision was simply wrong - and that I was simply unconsciously making a decision that would not really address the true problems I was facing in my life.

That's one of the great things about making unconscious decisions, I suppose, of drifting with the stream: we are never forced to confront the ground issues that we struggle with, the thing that are really creating the issues in our lives and placing us in the situation that we find ourselves. Instead we drift in a cocoon of non-realization, carefully protecting ourselves from the hard confrontations of ourselves that will truly implement change in our life.

The odd thing? Even though with the decision nothing changes, I feel a greater sense of control and progress in my life than I have for a long time. I made a choice for something, to confront those things in my life that need confronting, instead of merely moving them down the road once again.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood; I took the one less traveled, and it has made all the difference - Robert Frost